I am in the middle of reading Nineteen Minutes, a novel by Jodi Picoult. I love her books (even though it borders on chick lit) because of their convergence of legal issues with complex societal problems. For example, Nineteen Minutes is about a school shooting from both the shooters point of view as an act of retaliation against bullies, and from victims' points of views who grapple with the realization of life's fragility. The shooter survives and ends up going to trial and pleading not guilty. His trial is based on battered woman's syndrome, which postulates that a wife will attack an abusive husband even when unnecessary because her view of reality become disillusioned. The argument is that bullying will generate this same idea within the mind of those being bullied.
Anyway, I love a book that forces me to think -- although I do read before going to sleep, and sometimes that can keep me up at night, and thus, be a problem. Regardless, it's made me think a lot about the small decisions we can make in life and the ripple effect that they can have, with or without our knowledge.
This isn't a novel idea. Movies, TV shows and books have all dealt with this idea, and I've thought about it quite a bit myself. What if my parents had never taken my brothers to tour the University of Delaware? Would I have ever considered going there? I never would have met my friends, or had the opportunities I was given as a result of my undergrad degree. I never would have written for The Review, which in turn, would have likely deterred me from interning at CBS for the news department, and which in turn, may have prevented me from getting a job or getting into grad school. And reaching farther back, if I had given up on graduating high school due to my health issues, I certainly would never be where I am now. It's weird to think that even the decisions you make when you're 13 or 14-years-old can really change the course of your life.
This book has made me think about all the recent bullying episodes and teenage suicides that have occurred throughout the country this past year. If these kids realized how far-reaching their actions were, would they have acted the same? I think particularly of the student at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, who jumped from the George Washington Bridge a few months ago after his roommate and another girl streamed a video of him kissing another man. Now they face invasion of privacy charges and probable prison time. They caused the end of another life, and the devastation of his family -- not to mention their opportunity to receive an education, and then a decent job. Would they have acted the same if they knew their ripple effect?
With the invention of the Internet and social networking, it's easy to make a snap judgment and irrational decisions and broadcast them to the world. I think they will have a stronger and faster effect than they ever have in the past. It's a scary idea, and I think one that society will have to come to terms with over time.