Over the past few weeks, reporters and commentators have tried to make sense of the nonsensical by dissecting the personal stories of the Boston Bombers. As a result, nearly every story mentions Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s shattered dream of becoming an Olympic boxer. Was failing to achieve this goal the catalyst for his descent? Could all of this have been prevented if he’d succeeded? What if?
The speculation reminds me of a video game I played in junior high called Titanic: Adventure Out of Time. The premise was simple: You’re trying to prevent the sinking of the Titanic, because deep in the hold is a watercolor painted by Adolf Hitler, and if he becomes a famous artist, the Holocaust will be prevented. It seems impossible to believe that the most pivotal historical events of the 20th century (WWII, the Cold War, etc.) and the murder of millions of people might have been prevented if one guy had achieved his dream, but there are people who believe it.
But the more I think about the Boston Bombings and the importance of shattered hopes, the more I realize that it’s not about whether someone becomes a boxer or an artist.
Life is full of missed opportunities and disappointments, and following these failures, people make decisions about how to carry on. The most important decision they make is assigning blame. Am I responsible for my failures? Is someone else responsible for what happened? Or is just circumstance?
Tsarnaev couldn’t take his amateur boxing career to the Olympic level because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. He was having trouble becoming a citizen, in large part, because of a previous domestic violence arrest. But instead of taking responsibility for his role in the event, he concocted a fairy tale in which powerful people and government agents were denying him his citizenship so that another, less-talented boxer could take his place in the ring.
Both Hitler and Tsarnaev chose to blame others for their failures and shortcomings. They invested considerable mental energy and effort creating a narrative in which they were talented enough, strong enough and good enough, but another group had rigged the game against them and kept them down. And once blame was outwardly assigned, revenge needed to be taken. And frankly, I’m sick of hearing the pundits spin the tale about the many trials of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, failed boxer turned murderous bastard.
His fragile ego and complete lack of personal responsibility would not have been cured by a gold medal or a better education or a more affluent career path. The streets of Hollywood , the professional ball fields and the skyscrapers of Wall Street are filled to the brim with people who achieved their dreams of fame, money and power only to wind up in drug treatment, bankruptcy court, jail or a coffin because of their own bad acts. And most of those bad actors have a hard luck story to tell about their victimization and how they aren’t responsible for their actions because they were driven to their behavior by others/circumstance.
Tsarnaev isn’t a man whose shattered dreams brought him to a tipping point, he’s just a thug with a Lindsay Lohan-complex and a homemade bomb hell bent on murderous revenge. So let’s stop talking about his broken dreams wondering, what if?