Yesterday, about a half-mile from my workplace, a young man attacked his fellow college students with a knife, injuring several and killing one. While his motives are still coming to light, the impact of his actions, in a busy area of the UT-Austin campus, was felt immediately. I’m an alum of the university and I’m close to many students there who attend my church, so I was paying close attention and reaching out to many of them while news of the incident was still unfolding. And as I’m apt to do here on blog, and more specifically with events like this, I took a step back and just kind of absorbed what was happening and tried to make sense of it.
I noticed two things in particular through the college students’ Facebook page during the incident. First, information about a second suspect (along with misinformation) spread very quickly. And secondly, as more and more posts came up, there was a reaction against the students posting these updates. Individuals started getting snippy. Some folks, these are church members by the way (if that means anything), even started mocking some of those posting.
It’s a bit too simple to say that high tension incidents bring out the worst in people (after all, it also sometimes brings out the best), but it does draw qualities out of us that might not normally be seen. The students yesterday were fearful and frustrated, and reacted in a variety of ways. In even more serious circumstances, I’m sure similar outbursts happen. Suddenly, the people you think you know show sides of themselves of which you were unaware, and that you might not even like.
Attack on Titan is full of such fictional moments, but one in particular came to mind when I was thinking of how people react to overwhelming situations. SPOILERS AHEAD as I discuss the manga up to a point which we are unlikely to reach in season two of the anime.
In chapter 83 of the series, perhaps the most shocking “death” of all occurs as Armin sacrifices himself. He isn’t eaten, like you might expect. Instead, Armin is burnt to the point of being near-unrecognizable. However, there is an antidote to help him. The problem is that Levi has just found out that Erwin is also in need of this life-saving cure. He plans to use it on Erwin; Eren and Mikasa disagree, with the latter attacking a weakened-Levi.
In this tragic situation, it’s no surprise that the volatile Eren is falling part. But I most remember Mikasa’s reaction. The normally-cool Mikasa loses it – she attacks her commander, holds a blade at his throat, and sheds tears. The situation is too much for her. She can’t keep her rationality, and while her actions point toward bonds of friendship, love, and loyalty, they are also tinged with less desirable emotions perhaps, like bitterness against Levi and a lack of control.
I’ve noticed in my life that when stress becomes overwhelming, ugly attributes arise from within me. My facade quickly erodes away and all that’s left are the bare bones underneath, ugly and raw. I’m suddenly made very aware of my faults, and even more so because it doesn’t take a tragedy for this to occur. Simply a lack of sleep from having an infant has shown me just how dirty and sinful I am, and how much I still need to grow.
But I guess that’s the silliness of humans. Like children, we walk around as if we know so much when our parents know better, when they know just how little we really know about the world, about ourselves. Despite guidance from our parents that encourages us to grow, it all too often takes catastrophe for us to become self-aware. That’s part of growing up. But if we’re not careful, if we don’t learn from our mistakes and work toward becoming more than we are, we could be in that stage of “growing up” forever.