Back to Oscar Pistorius: According to a team of psychiatrists and psychologists, Oscar Pistorius was not suffering from an "anxiety disorder" when he shot his girlfriend, and thus is now considered to be criminally responsible for his actions as the trial moves forward. We now know that Pistorius felt vulnerable, defensive and often feared for his life, thus he was well-armed within his home in the secure, gated community.
But back in those heady days of London 2012, we had no such idea of his precarious existence. We met him then, live and in person, and like many people were utterly charmed by his demeanour, his humanity, and his athletic good looks. He signed our T-shirts, which we still regard in disbelief. On that perfect day of sunshine in London, here was a man who had the world at his fingertips, a super hero who had overcome the worst.
During the games, after the 200m final, we forgave his impetuosity when he felt he lost the 200m final to Brazil's Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira unfairly, claiming that the running blades Oliveira was using were too long, and calling for the International Paralympic Committee to investigate. It's difficult to understand how the drive to win at all costs can utterly consume the life of an elite athlete, an extent to which we lesser mortals can barely grasp. We felt relief when he apologized, confirmation of the good sportsmanship we wanted to believe in.
Later, when the news broke of that Valentine's Day tragedy, his fans experienced utter disbelief: "It can't be". Many people concluded immediately it was the act of a violent, careless man, having no doubt he vented his fury on his girlfriend, a crime so familiar in the South Africa of today. Others, who saw another side, were devastated at the very thought of the possibility of a horrible mistake, one also not entirely without precedent in South Africa.
The plethora of details that emerged throughout the trial swayed judgements back and forth: Reeva's fear of Oscar, Oscar's jealousy, a bungled investigation. Hearing one testimony after the other from the witness stand, the discrepancies beggared belief. Is anyone telling the truth? Does anyone know? Does Oscar Pistorius know? Are those two emotions of fear and anger so utterly intertwined in South African life that even he who acts on one or the other is so consumed and blinded as to not know the difference? Having admitted to the shooting, it remains for the court to conclude Oscar's intent. Which of these emotions pulled the trigger? Either way, of one thing we can be sure: whichever was the emotion at the time, he was completely consumed by it. Hence, the gun. For the average person in Britain today, perhaps that is hard to grasp, but now we know in post-apartheid South Africa, people live in fear.
Whatever is the fate of Oscar Pistorius as decided by the court, Reeva is gone and Pistorius's life is ruined. It was ruined the moment he picked up his gun. With weapons of destruction, there are no happy endings.Can there be a deserving gun-victim? When, if ever, is the use of a gun justified?
As an educator and a parent, this is my concern: I flashback here to a moment in my classroom during a study of the United Nations. We are in a middle-class school in a leafy suburban of Greater London, pursuing an understanding of Conflict Resolution. The students are given a special project book for this work and the 13 year olds are asked to suitably "decorate" the front cover. Some of the pictures on the covers however, when handed in, portray "conflict" rather than "resolution".
In addition, some covers are decorated with guns, and on one cover is drawn in detail an AK47. This, in the mind of the student, represents "Conflict Resolution". As the teacher, I explain that this is not an accurate portrayal of conflict resolution. This conflict wasn't resolved, it was ended. I ask the class, what kind of an ending, to conflict, do we want?
As teachers and parents, we have to deal with this prevalent notion that guns are cool, guns are fun and guns settle disputes. Has your child grown up with this idea? Has your adolescent? Have you? I tried to explain to the class that in most cases, "Gun" equals "Dead". Do they get that? But we are so desensitized to "Dead" and "Killed" that children almost don't grasp the meaning of it.
But it gets worse: neither do they grasp Life. What is Life? Your Life, my Life? Why are we Living at all? What is your Life for? These are the questions that need to be asked, and answered, now.
Once upon a time, everyone loved a happy ending. In a world with endless conflict, with the increased glorification of guns and violence, the question for parents and for young people today is: how do we get to that happy ending?