Why Privilege Isn't Enough
May 14, 2009

There have been a few trending news stories in the media I'd like to comment on particularly because one hits close to home. Over the years I've noticed our culture has a strange fascination with what I call "well to do" crimes. We simply can't understand how it is that supposedly "good" people from "good" upbringings who went to "good" schools could ever commit any type of heinous crime. When someone from the "wrong" side of the tracks commits a crime, we chalk it up to their upbringing, but if someone is clean and well-spoken, we want to run forensics on their kindergarten lunchbox and dig all into their past to find out where things "went wrong." I do not understand the fixation people have with figuring out why people do bad things.

The way I see it, sinners sin. What's not to get about that?

Sometimes I think the world needs to stop watching so much Oprah. Wake up members of humanity, people are not inherently good (aren't you glad you came to read this cheery message, today?). There is nothing in the history of civilization that points to a society where people were just born onto the earth and woke up the next day to declare, "You know what? I think I'm going to do the right thing today." "Maybe I won't own slaves." "Maybe I won't slaughter innocent people." "Maybe I won't be a dictator." "Maybe I won't claim I discovered land that was already inhabited." The world we live in is not an after school special. It is a world full of people who have to wake up every day and make a decision if they will choose life or death and choose right or wrong. It is a world where peoples' worldviews are not always formed in healthy environments.

Do you see this picture?

This is the man we all know as Adolf Hitler. What has always been interesting to me about some of the people who have left a legacy of death and destruction in their wake is that they were once babies too. Am I the only person who finds that totally crazy? Yet it's incredibly humbling and a reminder to us all that we all had a clean slate from which to begin --- the opportunity in our lifetime, to choose what path we'll follow.

Last week, terror was unleashed on my former institution of higher learning, Wesleyan University. A young woman named Johanna Justin-Jinich was gunned down and killed while working her shift at the college bookstore/cafe (where I in fact, used to work). I cannot tell you the level of shock most of my former classmates and current students were in that something like this could happen at our "safe," distinguished, small-town, private university. Within a matter of minutes of news reports of the shooting, investigative reporters were on the hunt for information on why this smart, educated young woman was the target of a murder. As soon as knowledge of the killer was released, an even more thorough analysis was launched as to why this Stephen Morgan character would be led to kill this young woman.

Take note that a few months ago, the shooting at the historically black school, Hampton University experienced far less press coverage or analysis. Sure no one on that campus died (thank God), but it's sort of a consistent thing I've noticed with the media. If some random, young woman of color goes missing while on vacation in the Jamaica, it's the seventh story down, but if a blond-haired beauty is missing in Aruba, we hear about it incessantly for 12 months straight. We place varying values on human life and it's a norm that has got to change.

In the case at Wesleyan, the victim of this awful crime was neither blond-haired nor blue eyed, but she was a student at a very prestigious university. Moreover, her assassin was private school educated and had a "good" upbringing. Take note, the use of "good" is rarely ever defined. I'm not sure what truly constitutes a "good" upbringing, but when the media uses this term, they are usually trying to connote class, status and education. Meanwhile, just a hop, skip and jump from Connecticut we have the "Craigslist Killer." This Philip Markoff investigation going down in Massachusetts has the general public abuzz and genuinely intrigued. Many Americans remain baffled as to how on earth this "clean-cut" medical student from a "good family" managed to live such a double life.

America's grief over the sins committed at the hands of smart and well-groomed people is not a new phenomenon. Over the last few decades, we've witnessed the downfall of the likes of Scott Peterson, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, The Menendez brothers and so many more unfortunate situations I don't wish to give any more airtime than they've already been given. What astounds me is how people continue to be rocked to the core when events like this occur in the upper echelons of society, yet show complete indifference when imagining those same events under a different set of circumstances.

However subtle the insinuation, there is an underlying belief, widely held by many Americans that being educated has a direct link to righteous behavior. To a certain extent, I understand how this logic has been perpetuated or even supported by graphs and spreadsheets and very impressive census data. Presumably when people are less educated, they have fewer opportunities available to them in life. If you can't read, there are careers and professions that are likely off limits to you. The basic assumption is that when people have fewer options due to their lack of education, they are more likely to choose the path of least resistance. In some cases, this means illegal activity for means of income or survival. This is a blanket assumption, but there is some worthwhile logic behind it.

When I worked in recruiting we would never hire someone into a finance role (high or low profile) who had poor credit or was in bankruptcy and owed tens of thousands of dollars in collections. The logic there was that if someone is in a desperate financial situation, giving them access to significant amounts of money may tempt them beyond reason to act unethically. On the other hand, we don't expect someone with clean credit to be a threat to the security of the position. Clearly the credit check scenario didn't work with Bernie Madoff. Similar logic is applied in the "education stops crime" equation. When it comes to doing what's right, we almost always expect more from people who are educated and come from a "good" upbringing.

I think it's time we all come to grips with the reality that no amount of education, proper pedigree, upbringing or money are key ingredients in an equation for righteous behavior. Even the rich, smart people commit murder.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that the continual blurring of the lines of morality in this country has left us in a quandary as to how to steer the next generation. Members of my generation may have grown up receiving a better education than those before us, but I'm not convinced we had it "better." If my math is correct, we are probably the first generation to pass through an educational system -- kindergarten through college -- that was entirely steeped in secular humanism. That is to say, whereas previous generations may have come through an educational system that acknowledged God or the presence of something bigger and greater than humanity was in existence, our generation was taught the complete opposite. In fact, that very message was pushed out of most classrooms in America and made too polarizing to even discuss in the workplace.

The subtle suggestions of our fabulous educational system have convinced so many in my generation that our lives are but a blip on the radar. That our arrival on the earth was some haphazard occurrence with no real purpose other than fate or coincidence. That we are the descents of primates and prone to animalistic and primal behavior. That not only is our life a blip, but so are the lives of our friends, our family, our coworkers and our enemies. That the definition of "life" is a gray area, up for debate and not something we can ever have a clear or sensible understanding of. That you should do what feels right. That you should always trust your heart. That leadership is only for an elite group of people. That success isn't something you can really control, but more the luck of the draw. This is the fancy, rigorous education many of us have been subjected to. This ideology preys on public school students and private school students alike. I can say without a doubt, that not once in all my educational pursuits was the value of human life ever an emphasis.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I believe there is a reason why school shootings are a trend of the modern era. It strikes me as poignant that even someone as wretched as Adolf Hitler, had the opportunity to be modeled. Yet we rarely point to the foundational development of a generation as a root cause for anything. The one thing most Americans have in common isn't religion, race, ethnicity, or class. It's that they all came through America's educational system. Homeschoolers not included.

Trying to profile a killer is a waste of time in my opinion. It really doesn't matter what a person's background is. There is no amount of "good-ness" in a person's life that will automatically produce righteous behavior. I don't care who you are, what you call yourself or what worldview you subscribe to, if you don't genuinely believe that you have a higher accountability in life, you will not live a life of accountability. When people don't live in the reality that their actions have eternal consequences, it is a scary day anywhere.

When a person truly understands that every human being, no matter what stage in life, is uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully designed for a specific purpose on the earth, the value you place on your fellow man is pure gold. To me, that is the highest privilege.

Posted by Ambra at May 14, 2009 1:29 AM in Culture ,Current Events ,Education
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Another excellent piece. Forgive me if I link to your posts all over the place, from here to Kingdom come.

well, I followed Lori's link and appreciate the tip!. This is so well-spoken and so true. As a mother of 5, it baffles me that people can entertain the notion that we are inherently good. God help us. Your last paragraph is my goal as a mother, to teach this worth to my children. That they understand THEIR worth, and the preciousness of others.

My sister and I were just having this conversation about our toddlers. Anyone with toddlers knows that human beings are inherently evil. Just let two 3- year-olds alone and watch how they treat each other. My daughter and my niece are HORRIBLE to each other. I did not teach them this. I try to teach them to be kind and loving...but their instinct is to be unkind, violent, selfish and mean. This is why we all need God. Without His influence, our nature will not allow peaceful co-existence. And you're so right about choices. Each person, regardless of background, has choices to make every day that will either lead them down a road of civility or a road of destruction. There is no in between.

@M. Fox

"Anyone with toddlers knows that human beings are inherently evil."

Hilarious! That should be a bumper sticker.

@Lori yeah please feel free to link my articles anywhere! ;-)

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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