Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"They didn't deserve this."

The Silver Pen shindig last night went fine, and was really quite lovely; I'll post pictures at some point. In the meantime, I need to talk about this other thing.

"They didn't deserve this."

Is anybody else heartily sick of seeing and hearing this phrase in connection with horrific crimes?

From a story about the death of Charles Augustine, Kathy Augustine's former husband, whose body is now being exhumed to see if Chaz Higgs may have been responsible for his death, too:
"It would be irresponsible of me not to look into the option that he (Higgs) played a part in my father's death," Greg Augustine said. "He (Charles Augustine) was a good guy and he didn't deserve that."
As opposed to all those stroke patients in the intensive-care unit who do deserve to be injected with lethal drugs by their nurses?

From a story about a San Antonio high-school teacher murdered in her home:
"I just hope that they catch whoever did this. She didn't deserve this," [her principal] said.
As opposed to all those women who do deserve to shot in the head at their kitchen tables?

From a story about the murder and kidnapping of a teenager in Tennessee:
"This is a fifteen year old kid, he didn't deserve to die like he died, and be thrown out somewhere like a doll, he didn't deserve that," [a neighbor] said.
As opposed to all those older people who do deserve such treatment?

And, finally, from a story about the murders at the Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania:
"This is a horrendous, horrific incident for the Amish community. They're solid citizens in the community. They're good people. They didn't deserve this. No one deserves this," State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller said.
No one deserves this.


Thank you.

Because otherwise, I might have thought you believed that there's some community out there that does deserve to have its children slaughtered.

Yes, okay, I know: I live in a country that still practices the death penalty and that's just broken its last ties to the Geneva Convention. I live in a country that officially believes that some people do deserve death by lethal injection, while other people do deserve to be tortured. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that ordinary citizens on the street use this kind of rhetoric, too.

And to be fair, my Google news search of this phrase also turned up an instance in a story about a father killed by a gang in East London:
“They are a very nice family, very quiet. He didn’t bother anyone and certainly didn’t deserve this. He was a good Christian man.”
So it's not just the States.

But is there anybody else out there who thinks that the moment we say that someone doesn't deserve something, we're implying that someone else does? Who suspects that implying that anyone deserves to be brutally slaughtered maybe means that we're thinking a little too much like the slaughterers?

Don't mind me. I'm just a liberal.

What I keep coming back to, although it may sound quaint and entirely irrelevant to these real-world horrors, is the conversation between Frodo and Gandalf about Gollum in "The Shadow of the Past" chapter of The Lord of the Rings:
"I am sorry," said Frodo. "But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum."

"You have not seen him," Gandalf broke in.

"No, and I don't want to," said Frodo. "I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is just as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."

"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
Oh, but that's fantasy. Which isn't real.

More's the pity.


  1. Anonymous10:41 AM

    It's akin to, though much more serious than, celebrities and other award winners who thank God for the award. Because God, evidently, hates everyone else who was nominated and who didn't win.

  2. The words of Wild Bill Shakespeare come to mind, about us getting mercy rather than what we deserve.

    This is always cliche time, when people feel the need to say something but don't have the words to express their feelings. Theyv are not words, just meaningless sounds, an incoherent expression of horror and grief.

    We can only pray, as always, for those whose lives were cut short and those they leave behind, and those who did the killing. They probably need our prayers more than anyone. After all, they have a perfect judge waiting for them (see remark about mercy above)

    Whether they would appreciate them is another matter.

    And on to a much lighter topic. Did the imp enjoy his milk and cookies?

  3. In what way would helping one person prove God hates everyone else? It's not like more than one nominee could have won anyway.

    As far as "They didn't deserve this," I don't think the implication is that others do. I think (maybe over-charitably, it wouldn't be the first time) that most of the time the "No one does" part is just unspoken. I think that rather than comparing the unfortunate person's worth with the worth of everyone else in the same boat, the statement generally is meant to compare the unfortunate person's fate with the fate that they really DID deserve.

  4. Oh, and congratulations on enjoying your evening. I think you DID deserve that!

  5. It makes me think of the movie Bull Durham, when the team slut is getting married and Annie (Susan Saradon) is helping her get dressed. Suddenly, she looks sad and says, "maybe I don't deserve to wear white." And Annie says, "Honey, we all deserve to wear white." We all deserve good things and not bad things, no matter what kind of people we are. Isn't that the definition of Christian charity and compassion.

  6. Thanks to everybody for the comments!

    Claire, I'd love to share your charitable reading, but the qualifiers in many of the quotations I posted make that difficult for me. "He was a good guy and didn't deserve that," can't help but suggest -- to me, at least -- that bad guys would, although maybe Martyn's right and the phrase is just a cliche that people come out with in times of stress (that's Gary's reading, too).

    For me, it's a matter of the Golden Rule: I don't want other people judging whether I deserve to die, so I try to avoid doing the same to them.

    True story: Last semester, one of my writing students (an older student with children) wrote a story in which the protagonist, a harried suburban mom with whom the reader's meant to sympathize, deliberately arranges for a nine-year-old neighborhood bully to break his leg, because nothing else is getting through to him.

    The story was supposed to be funny. Most of my students thought it was funny. I thought it was horrifying, and so did one student (a guy), who said, "Your protagonist stands by and watches while a nine year old breaks his leg. That's child abuse."

    One of the students who thought the story was funny (and who was ordinarily very thoughtful and a very smart reader) said, "Well, it didn't bother me, because he deserved it."

    I can only hope the class would have responded differently if we hadn't been talking about fiction. It was a pretty scary teaching moment for me, though.


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