I watch a lot of cop shows. My favorites are those that focus on the psychology of the criminal (and occasionally on the psychology of those who pursue the criminal). Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Criminal Minds, The Fall. Those kinds of shows. Light on the car chases and gun waving. Heavy on the thinking and talking. And though they are obviously pure fiction, these stories have shown me something that I think applies to real life.
It’s safer to be nice.
Not just on a personal level, but on a societal scale as well. Most of the villains on Criminal Minds, for instance, can’t help themselves. They’ve snapped because of some trauma or string of traumas. They’re not evil, per se. In fact, most of the time you’re meant to sympathize with them, saddened by the death and destruction they’ve caused, but equally saddened by their tragic histories. And the common denominator in those histories? They had no support network.
There’s nothing to separate these criminals from us normal folk except a hugely traumatic event and the fact that they had no one to help them deal with it. Sometimes no one even noticed. And more often than not, what sets them off is something that reminds them of that trauma. Someone yelling at them or cutting them off in traffic or just generally being a self-absorbed jerk. I definitely don’t want to be the person who gets shot in the face because I remind some powder keg of a man of his abusive mother. This is not the only reason I try to be nice to people, but it is one of them.
And I think we as a society could benefit from more institutionalized niceness. Desperately unhappy people do desperately unhappy things. Anything that helps move people out of that category and into the warm, safe, well-fed category is good for all of us. In other words …
The nicer we are to ourselves as a group, the less chance we have of one of us going rogue and shooting up the place.
That’s where all those social programs we say we don’t have enough money for come in. Institutionalized niceness.
Even more difficult and underpinning any attempt to make niceness an integral part of our culture is recognition of our own responsibility for it. Individual niceness. Being nice is actually really hard. It takes time. It takes courage. If I’m hurrying on my way to wherever it is I’m going and I pass someone who’s crying, do I stop? Do I ask him or her what’s wrong? Or do I continue to hurry, assuming that anyone crying in public is crazy and should be left alone?
On my cop shows, that’s part of the problem. Crying people are left alone. We’re all so afraid of becoming involved that we don’t do what might stop the problem before it starts.
We each have the ability to derail the terror train before it builds up enough speed to demolish whatever hapless station is next on its route.
I guess if I’m going to run the risk of getting shot in the face, I’d rather do it holding out my hand than shaking my fist. Doesn’t mean I always manage it. But it’s what I strive for.