What this all means for me…

Jeremy Knight

“When we are touched by pain, we develop compassion and connect with others. When we stay comfortable and keep suffering at a distance, it is easy to become complacent, apathetic and disinterested.”

~Greg Pierotti, member of The Laramie Project writing team

This quote has stuck with me since reading it in the audience guide for The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. An Epilogue. I find that as humans, we try to distance ourselves from the uncomfortable; instead of tackling the root of the problem, we pick at the leaves—focusing on surface issues to blame. And who can blame us? It’s a hell of a lot easier to shield ourselves of the blame, turning the attention to something external—someone or something we can point and wag our fingers at. I especially have a hard time with this. I have had to work hard to really internalize the results of my actions and analyze where it all stems from. I—an outsider looking in with only the play, a few other course readings, and some of the videos we watched in class—think that Laramie residents and our society as a whole must also dig beneath the surface into the gritty soil to look at the root of the problem. We can blame Matthew Shepard’s   death on external factors, things out of our control—drugs, his behavior, or on two bad eggs. When it comes down to it, this community, this nation, our society produced these two boys and breeds hatred for many groups of people. Typically, people don’t express their hatred or discontent in such drastic manners, which is why no one says anything. In this country, you can call someone a “fag” and barely receive any repercussions if any at all. This is what shocked and sickened me the most about Fred Phelps’s remarks and actions. I have no problem with people who disagree with homosexuality—those are your own views and you are entitled to them. However, people like him legitimately HATE others, and these are the people that breed the Aaron McKinneys, your neighbor that yells “fag,” the school children who harass their classmates. Instead of spreading hate it times like these, we should be “touched by pain…develop compassion and connect with others.” You don’t have to agree, but find empathy as a fellow human being. Be there in a time of need. I hope that through this process, we all learn to do this with the person that we “hate” or with a group that we don’t agree with…even the Aaron McKinneys, your relative that calls someone a “fag,” or a student who harasses someone on campus. Hopefully with this production, we can reach those people, but we must remember that we all can learn something from this show and in reflecting on our own behaviors.

2 thoughts on “What this all means for me…

  1. Jeremy–

    I love your quote from Greg P. who we hear much more from as a character in Ten Years After. In the blog Pierotti kept from Oct. 2008 when he and other TTP members went back to Laramie, there is this entry from Leigh Fondakowski that struck me in relationship to your post:

    “A gay man who grew up in Wyoming and now lives in Laramie said to me yesterday, “Maybe it’s time we start talking about forgiveness — stop arguing over whether or not it was a hate crime or drug crime or some combination of both — but really talk about forgiveness.” ”

    This quote reminded me of the difficult work of Truth and Reconciliation commissions in places like South Africa or Rwanda, where so many people participated in horrific crimes against their neighbors. I believe there is a specific rational for using “reconciliation” vs. “forgiveness” because reconciliation requires a behavioral relationship between parties that continues beyond any one moment of forgiveness. There is a moving forward together, if not in harmonious union, then certainly in a spirit of mutual respectful action but this is only really possible if there is justice served for injury and trust (re)established between parties. Tall orders indeed.

    Certainly members of TTP who returned to Laramie for the Ten Years Later project, found a strong push to forget what happened, to be allowed to move on, stop talking about it. So how do you find a balance between reconciliation in a way that doesn’t allow what Jeffrey Lockwood calls (in Ten Years Later) “collective forgetting” and letting the events of that October night rule a communities entire existence, further entrenching bigotry and hate?

    You mention the need to think of individuals like Aaron McKinney in this story as well. That reminded me of this exchange between Greg P. and Michel Martin during an episode of NPR’s “Tell Me More”:

    “MARTIN: And I wanted to ask you what that was like. I mean, there are some people who’d say, why do you want to talk to him [Aaron McKinney]? You’re sitting across from a man who beat somebody to death with his bare hands and why? What was that like? And what do you think you walked away from that encounter?

    Mr. PIEROTTI: I certainly walked away from it with a clearer picture of my own sort of naivete about, I don’t know, the nature of humanity. I mean, I’m a Buddhist and I believe the core of my faith is that all people have human dignity.

    But sitting across from Aaron and having the conversations that I did really kind of made me see that my notion of, you know, everyone having human dignity is a little bit simplistic, you know. It was very difficult at times to reach a connection with Aaron of any kind or to engage that quality in him. But at the same time, you know, I was able to connect with him as a person.

    And as you say, I sought him out, you know, I made the request to speak to him. So, I do feel a certain ethical responsibility to clearly represent that he has, you know, more to him than just this monstrous crime that he committed. You know, there’s what he did and there’s how people feel deeply wounded. The gay community feels deeply wounded by the act. And there’s my sense of responsibility to him as a person. So, I guess I’m just getting that life runs deeper and more complex than I ever imagined it.”

    “Life runs deeper and more complex than I ever imagined it.” A simple statement that says *so* much.


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