April 24, 2007
Interpersonal communication is a matter of strings, an invisible network that connects people—and if not connects, at least facilitates some sort of cause and effect relationship between them. Sometimes we are puppets, sometimes we are puppeteers, and sometimes we are mere observers. Nowhere is this more apparent than on college campuses, insulated communities with their own rules, their own ways of being, their own strings.
Sometimes strings get cut—who knows how or why—and the machinery of life falters. The trick is finding the right balance: not too much slack, not too much tension. The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech is, in my mind, also a question of strings. Someone became disconnected, and though we may never know the cause, the effect is painfully clear.
Lately I have been asking myself whether I have cut any strings. Have I ostracized anyone? Have I hurt anyone? There have certainly been times in my life when I have felt disconnected from and irrelevant to the world around me. I am lucky that those moments never lasted very long, lucky to have friends and a supportive community, lucky to feel the strings moving at all. But many people are not so lucky. I suspect that Cho Seung-Hui is one such person—a man who was not born a monster but became one because of some disconnect. I would encourage all students to be well attuned to the world around them. Pay attention to one another. Be responsive to your classmates, be receptive, try to reciprocate emotions—and do this not to avoid danger in the future, but to avoid tragedy in the present.