I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DON'T BELIEVE WHAT I BELIEVE!!! UN-FUCKING-BELIEVABLE!!!
Like every other human who ever walked upright on planet Earth, I went through a phase in my early teens. I suppose puberty was a big part of it, but another big part was junior high. I had skated through Grades 1-6 with the certainty that I had this whole school thing on lock. Then suddenly, I was locked in a cage with a bunch of other smelly little animals, wandering around the perimeter of our enclosure while our gamekeepers whipped us with algebra and Kalahari bushmen and chloroplasts. Everyone suddenly seemed to be speaking a foreign language, which didn't matter anyway, because our ears were all filled with the sound of our own rushing hormones.
Luckily, I had a particular Language Arts teacher during those years. I won't name him here (for reasons that will be clear soon enough) but no doubt some of you reading this remember his classes. In a time when so many other teachers refused to teach us anything even remotely relevant to our lives - "You're learning about how the Eskimos live because someday you might be an Eskimo yourself!" - this one teacher got it. And he got us. He knew that junior high is about keeping addle-brained kids off the street and reasonably sane for ten months of the year. Anyone who thinks differently, as far as I'm concerned, is either remembering wrong or a fricking keener. (KEEEE-ner! KEEEE-ner!)
But this teacher - let's call him Mr. Smith - was different. His focus for the two years he was my LA teacher, and again during my year on the school newspaper, was to make sure we could write. Not make sure we knew what a dangling participle was (it was puberty, of course we knew), but that we could just write. That we could put our thoughts into words, and, more importantly, that we could use our imaginations. He once assigned our class to write an essay about why Fig Newtons were better than Oreos. Of course, every kid in the class made a face and said "I hate Fig Newtons!" He replied simply: "I don't care. Just tell me why Fig Newtons are better than Oreos." Writing is a skill that we all need for the rest of our lives. Long after we've forgotten about how force equals mass times velociraptor or how to track down that goddam x, everyone still uses writing on a daily basis. I absolutely credit Mr. Smith with fostering my love of writing, and I acknowledge him in the foreword of my first novel, False Witness, for doing so. (If you want to know his real name, buy the book)
And Mr. Smith could make us laugh. That was gold in those days when everything seemed so unfamiliar and hard to understand. He was one of only two teachers in the school that I can recall us ever laughing with. Most of the time we were laughing at the other teachers, because they seemed so buffoonish. Why? Because they were either far too serious about the whole concept of school, or they just didn't care about us. Or both. Mr. Smith was different. He was intuitive, and patient, and focused on his student. But he didn't suffer fools, and he didn't screw around. He once gave me a zero and a withering lecture for cheating on a test. I believe (or at least hope) that everyone gets at least one teacher in their life who makes a difference. For me, that teacher was Mr. Smith.
He was also a trophy hunter.
That's right. The guy who shaped my life to such a huge degree, who almost single-handedly got me through the intellectual hell of junior high school, could have been the guy who shot Cecil the lion. I'm certain he did shoot at least one lion in his life, as evidenced by a photo album that he kept in his desk at the back of his classroom. He also kept a dummy .50-caliber shell on his desk that he'd pretend to use as a pen.
Shocked? Outraged? Ready to type nasty things in the comments section? Or are you thinking twice about it because the person who killed the lion was presented as an actual human being as opposed to a heartless murderer?
Walter Palmer, the American whom the world now knows as Cecil The Lion's killer, has been getting death threats lately after shooting a protected lion in Zimbabwe. He was forced to close his dentistry practice. His family can't show their faces in public. All this because the Internet (read: people just like you and me) have tried him, convicted him and sentenced him without anyone ever setting foot inside a courtroom. I don't know the circumstances of Cecil's killing (and, despite what you may think, neither do you because you weren't there), and I've never met Walter Palmer. I don't presume to be wise enough to say whether what he did was wrong or what kind of punishment he deserves. That's for a court of law to decide. You know, kind of how we've been resolving stuff like this for the last couple hundred years?
I'm certainly not saying I'm in favour of trophy hunting. To be honest, I don't know if I am or I'm not. I don't think about it. Unlike some people, I'm not qualified to comment on whether it's okay to kill a lion. What I am saying is that Mr. Smith is far more than the killer of a lion. And I'm willing to bet that Walter Palmer is, too. Even if he's a complete asshole, he doesn't deserve to have his life and his family's lives blown into ruins over the shooting of a fucking lion.
Thanks to social media, we've become a society in which no one can do anything wrong. I mean that in two ways: first, if you do anything wrong, you're shamed for it. Second, the people who are doing the shaming can see no wrong in themselves. That person who left the baby in a hot car must be a complete moron and should be sentenced to die in a hot car themselves. And, of course, the fact that the parent will spend the rest of their life with the crippling agony of knowing they caused the death of their child is not punishment enough. They must face the wrath of the righteous, ie: all those folks on social media. Obviously, it could never happen to you, right? You're too smart for that.
It's nothing short of alarming to see how quickly and completely the mob mentality phenomenon has swept through western society with the advent of social media. From the anti-vax movement's war on public health and common sense to the attempts to ban anyone from Canada who has ever said anything nasty ever, we have become a world of black and white, where rational thought and reasoned arguments have no place. It's all about our emotions, and satisfying our appetite for outrage.
And I'm as guilty of it as anyone. I let my buttons get pushed; just ask my wife. She's the one who has to try to watch TV while I sit at my computer ranting about some bullshit or other that ultimately has absolutely zero impact on my life but that I have an opinion about nonetheless.
I guess what I'm saying is that I'm going to keep making an effort to think about Mr. Smith before I put my fingers to the keyboard. And I hope you all call me on it if I start to stray. Thanks for reading.