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Discuss: The Tipping Point

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?

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    21 comments

  1. Amanda says:

    Really well put, Belle. We are only as strong as our character and circumstance doesn’t change that, it just determines how/where/when we express true colors.

    I found this Huffington Post article interesting. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jack-levin-phd/domestic-terrorism_b_3192124.html

    Post marathon bombing, I am finding that people are angry and disillusioned with how the “system” works. It’s easy to see that after any tragedy intentionally caused by human hands we rise up asking, “could it have been prevented?” Rightfully so, we scrutinize the laws, regulations and agencies that responded asking, “Are we doing everything we can? Can we pool more resources, regulate more activity?” Challenge: How does our government find the proper balance? I think this article provides some perspective on a bigger picture, that it is often home-grown terror that plagues our country, isolated to individuals who do not represent the character of our community.
    I’m sure you can relate to this, Belle, with the recent Sandy Hook shootings. The call to regulate firearms was enormous. I don’t feel strongly one way or another but it’s important for people to remember WHO did it. We can’t monitor and control the actions of 314 million people. If that young man wanted to hurt people, he would have found a way, regulations or not. We must not live in fear of what we can’t control.

    May 2, 2013/Reply
    • Sara says:

      “We must not live in fear of what we can’t control.”

      I really agree with this. I think that people always want to find the WHY for something and while that’s a normal reaction, sometimes there just isn’t one.

      May 3, 2013/Reply
  2. C says:

    I think this post is incredibly misguided. While you’re right it is unfair to blame your misfortunes for heinous actions, it seems who you should be more angry at is the media for their spin on the actual motive. If you read or listen more closely they will say things like “this or that motive is reportedly the reason” (key word being reportedly). The only people who actually know the motive probably aren’t going to be too forthcoming about the actual reasons to the media. The law enforcement officials that have come forward say that the bombings are apparently politically/religiously motivated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s sexier to blame his failed career, but most credible sources blame his actions on his political views. Maybe his and his parents failed attempts at success in a country they put their hopes and dreams into contributed in some way, but don’t get ahead of yourself in thinking that was his sole motive. Doing so subverts the investigation, and wrongly puts you in the judges seat. Be more critical when reading or watching stories put out by any major news outlet.

    May 2, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      It’s true that the deeper motives are being discussed, but this is the one that seems to resonate with people outside of the media. Talking to friends and family, esp. those who don’t watch a lot of news, this is the narrative that has resonated with them. Religious motivations aside, I think having it couched as stemming from a personal failure is resonating with more of the people that I talk to. And so, a few years from now, I think a lot of people will remember him as an immigrant who became radicalized because he didn’t succeed at boxing, and I think that’s a mistake.

      May 2, 2013/Reply
      • Amanda says:

        It’s so hard to pull yourself away from the story. We all want to know why it happened and what his motives were RIGHTNOW. When in reality, it’s probably going to take a while to really understand what happened. Many will remember what was said in the aftermath of the incident, as you suggest, rather than what the investigation reveals down the road.

        May 2, 2013/Reply
        • Belle says:

          True.

          May 2, 2013/Reply
  3. Cynthia W says:

    Frankly, I found it more telling that he said that he didn’t have even ONE American friend because he “didn’t understand them”. How can you live here for 10 years and befriend no one? Understand no one? It has to be because you aren’t trying. Possibly because you’re planning to kill a bunch of them eventually and understand or liking them would put a crimp in that little plan.

    I don’t know if this guy was politically motivate, religiously motivated or motivated by his dismal failures, but he isn’t the only one to take out his frustrations with his personal failures on other people. It happens every day and people try to use these events in people’s lives to explain their wretched behavior.

    My answer is always the same – there are millions of people who have the same or worse problems in this world and they don’t go around murdering, maiming and abusing other people. Or stealing from them. Or just being a general douchebag. Every single person in this world has had something shitty happen to him/her and, guess what? Most people choose to pick themselves up, move on, and get on with their lives. I’m so sick of the media and just regular people trying to make excuses for people’s crap behavior.

    May 2, 2013/Reply
    • Lar says:

      I totally agree with your comment that it was REALLY odd that he said that he didn’t have even ONE American friend because he “didn’t understand them.” When I heard that, it really struck me as odd. No boxing buddies? No coach friends? But mostly, he had a daughter and a wife and the fact that he would do such a terrible thing without considering how this would impact them at all (especially his daughter) shows you how messed up he really was. I think it’s in our nature to question motives but for a lot of people that do horrible things, you’ll never really find a good reason or motive for their behavior. You can’t rationalize irrational.

      May 2, 2013/Reply
  4. Jennifer says:

    Well Said Belle! Well said.

    May 2, 2013/Reply
    • Anna says:

      I second this comment!

      May 2, 2013/Reply
  5. Jess says:

    Well said, indeed! Unfortunately, it seems that we are trying to become a society where nothing is our fault. It’s either due to our family, lack of family, religion, lack of religion, sports, hollywood, insert what you will here, but very few are willing to admit their own decisions they make, whether good or bad. It’s like we are trying to dodge responsibility for anything. That way, we don’t have to grow up and take control of our lives.

    May 2, 2013/Reply
    • Allison says:

      I actually think it’s almost the exact opposite of this, where Americans think that one’s success or failure in life is 100% attributable to the choices they made. I agree that when it comes to themselves personally, many people seem to be bad at taking responsibility for errors and mistakes, but I think as a society we like to think that there is always an identifiable “it” that can explain why something is the way it is. By always being able to pinpoint a reason for something, we can then comfort ourselves with the illusory idea that we would never make such a decision, and hence such a thing would never happen to us. Our society buys into the idea that people get what they deserve, even though a great deal of all of our lives is determined by the families and countries that we find ourselves born into by no choice of our own. But we sure do like to think that we have control of our lives, and therefore, if that person over there is suffering/poor/sick/failing at life, which scares us and operates as a cautionary tale, it must be because they made poor life choices, whereas perfect me would never do those things.

      I’m not saying that people shouldn’t take personal responsibility for their choices and actions, but the idea that we can truly “take control of our lives” is a seductive fallacy we tell ourselves. The truth is that life is a balance between the decisions we make and then the unexpected circumstances and things that happen to us, by no will of our own, and as the saying goes, all you can control is how you react to these life events. In Tsarnaev’s case, maybe he actually was a man whose shattered dreams brought him to a tipping point. That should not ever be understood as an EXCUSE for what he did, but it may still be an accurate explanation of what led up to the bombing. He obviously made the wrong choice in how to deal with his shattered dreams, if that is in fact what happened, and for that he should be held accountable. But seeking to understand what maybe led to him making that bad decision isn’t worthless either. What if he had befriended an American or two before deciding to bomb the marathon? What if there had been an avenue for him to continue his competitive boxing? In terms of excusing his choice none of this matters, what he did is inexcusable, but I am interested in what sort of life leads to making an insane choice like the one he made. To the extent we can understand or affect the path to insanity, we should. For me, if nothing else, the “what ifs” in these situation are always a reminder to me that empathy for people’s hardships and small acts of kindness can seem meaningless but in fact are probably some of the most important things we can do for other human beings.

      May 2, 2013/Reply
      • Belle says:

        I agree that it is easier to take responsibility for successes than failures. And I think a lot of little decisions can be more important than one big event.

        May 2, 2013/Reply
      • Sara says:

        “…there is always an identifiable “it” that can explain why something is the way it is. By always being able to pinpoint a reason for something, we can then comfort ourselves with the illusory idea that we would never make such a decision, and hence such a thing would never happen to us. Our society buys into the idea that people get what they deserve, even though a great deal of all of our lives is determined by the families and countries that we find ourselves born into by no choice of our own.”

        YES. I think this makes us tend to do two very different things: either overly sympathize with someone or try to completely alienate ourselves from them.

        May 3, 2013/Reply
  6. Randi Decker @ CarolinaSugar.com says:

    I used to play that game too!!! I think we are soul sistas! jk…. kinda.

    May 2, 2013/Reply
  7. JK says:

    On a slightly different note, in the aftermath of this event I’ve been struggling with the idea of whether to/how much to blame someone’s parents. Obviously our parents shape who we are and who we grow up to be, to some degree. But at what point does that cease to be an excuse? When you’re 15? 18? 26? On some level you feel like parents are at least partially responsible for the actions of the person they raised, but certainly that only goes so far, right? I don’t know the answer, or who you can or should blame in this situation, but it’s an interesting question that people seem to disagree about.

    May 2, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I’ve known a lot of people, prob. because of where I’m from, who had hard childhoods with problematic parent/child relationships. It seems like most of them started to get perspective on their childhood/parents vs who they were in their mid-20s. But parents def. have a powerful impact on our development, and it takes a lot of effort to unlearn behaviors or beliefs that were imprinted on you by your parents.

      May 2, 2013/Reply
    • Kay says:

      I think the blame-the-parents argument only goes so far, but it seems to me in this case the parents fed into their “Lindsay Lohan complex” that Belle mentions. The parents denied any possibility that their sons were guilty when interviewed by the media. Instead, they insisted that their “angels” were framed. This brings up the point that not only do we need to be honest with ourselves about our own failures and successes, but honest with ourselves about our loved ones and their actions. Being coddled and stripped of responsibility never did anyone’s character any good.

      May 3, 2013/Reply
  8. LAS says:

    Belle-I don’t normally post in response to blogs but yours is so spot on that I had to publicly applaud you for calling it like it is. Thank you! I will never understand why individuals fail to take personally responsibility for their lives and put more energy into finding a source of blame instead of channeling that same energy to finding a solution. Just think how much better ths country would be if people were willing to work hard and had less of a feeling of entitlement. Bravo Belle!

    May 3, 2013/Reply
  9. Sara says:

    I could not agree more. I think after any kind of nonsensical tragedy like this (or the Newtown shooting) people look for answers because they want to blame someone, they want to try to prevent something like it from happening again and because they need to find reasons to believe that it couldn’t happen to them. I think that the media has taken these impulses and turned it into something that ends up giving way too much attention to the perpetrators.

    May 3, 2013/Reply
  10. Charlotte says:

    Well said! This reminds me of something I realized while in law school during a Poverty Law class. Each class always regressed into a conservatives vs. liberals (always the extremists on both ends), the former claiming the poor needed to take all of the responsibility for their plight, the latter pointing out the systematic injustices that make lifting oneself from poverty impossible.

    It kind of hit me while listening to the bickering that it is human nature for many to attribute everything good that’s happened to us that we have to solely our own efforts and anything bad to something external that is outside of our control. Clearly reality isn’t as simple as that.

    Plus, it’s a very well settled principle of psychology that those who have an internal locus of control (i.e. believe that they are in control of their destiny) are significantly happier than those who have an external locus of control (i.e. believe that the outside world is in control of their destiny)). I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    May 3, 2013/Reply