Patrick E. McLean : Just what it says on the tin.

Having Been the Victim of a Shooting

As a guy who has been the victim of a shooting, it seems incumbent upon me to make some kind of comment about the horrible events in Colorado.

It’s a big deal, and the media is going to make it the biggest deal possible, because that’s how they make money. But there is nothing exceptional about what happened. There is nothing wrong with the world. This is simply the way the world is. Sometimes really awful things happen. But they don’t happen very often.

In fact, they happen way, way, way, less than the amount we fear them. As a species we kid ourself that the things we do a lot are very safe and things we aren’t familiar with are very dangerous. For example, driving a car, or taking a shower is way more dangerous than flying. But what do we really fear? Flying. Spiders. Public Speaking. What’s going to kill us? Driving. Stairs. Fixing a Sump Pump. CDC Leading causes of Death in the U.S. for 2009

Cancer, heart disease, suicide these are things to fear. You are four times likely to kill yourself than you are to be killed. Keep a close eye on that guy in the mirror, will ya?

For me, the thing to worry about is fear, not maniacs. We don’t have an epidemic of maniacs. But we are a people fed on a steady and consistent diet of fear. And it is the fear of terrible things happening that destroys our lives.

I know a man who has a Ph.D. in Psychology and studies fear in conjunction with warfighting and special warfare tactics. He made the most amazing observation. A few generations ago a family would take a wagon out on to the frontier and build a house with little more than an axe. Not only did they not have health insurance, they probably didn’t even have a doctor. And chances are, that facing all of these very real dangers, (and looking forward to an early death by our actuarial tables) that they felt less anxiety about life than somebody working in a present-day office.

It is a hell of an observation, and I think of it often. I’m not sure I can fully apply the wisdom of it to my life. After all, baby needs a new pair of shoes so Daddy got to hustle. But I’m learning.

To any survivor of the shooting in Colorado, or any other such event, I would have many things to say. They would be about recovering your life after being a completely random victim. About being patient with yourself. About acknowledging and coming to grips with the fear. About how tough it is and how important it is for the healing process. But the most important thing I have to say to anyone who has been a victim is about forgiveness.

It is important to forgive your attacker. Especially to put the fear behind you. Forgiveness involves understanding, and I don’t think we fear what we understand.

This is not a turn-the-cheek platitude. I’ve got no particular problem with the idea of killing a person who’s bent on killing you or any innocent. (You are an innocent, aren’t you?) I would do what I could to avoid it, if only because there is evidence that killing another person (especially at close range) does a lot of psychological damage to the killer.1 But if it had to happen, so be it.

But none of this is my point. My point is you don’t forgive someone who has wronged you for them. You do it for you. So that you can return, free and unencumbered to the rest of your life. So that you can live fully and well, and experience moments of transcendent joy.

As George Herbert said, “Living well is the best revenge.”

So if you feel any sorrow in your heart, if the wrongness of anything that has happened weighs on you in any way, then I encourage you to revenge yourself by living well. As a person who has been a victim, I think it’s the only thing you can do.


  1. An excellent book on the subject is Dave Grossman’s On Killing 


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