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Romano: Movie theater shooting shows we are angry people in a hair-trigger world

An argument over texting sparked a shooting Monday at the Cobb Grove 16 theater near Interstate 75.
An argument over texting sparked a shooting Monday at the Cobb Grove 16 theater near Interstate 75.
Published Jan. 16, 2014

By all accounts, they were good men.

Stay-out-of-trouble, chat-with-the-neighbors, dependable-on-the-job men. They were fathers, they were husbands, they were the centers of some loved one's universe.

Yet their trivial argument in a Wesley Chapel movie theater grew so disproportionate so quickly that one life was ended and the other was forever altered in a matter of moments.

Their paths barely crossed, and yet now are unforgettably intertwined. So as one family prepares to gather in a courtroom, and another at a funeral, perhaps it is worth asking: When did we become so angry?

I realize this is a subjective, and possibly illusory, question. Maybe as a country, as a culture, we are no more irate today than we were 25, 50 or 100 years ago.

But it doesn't feel that way.

To me, it feels as if many of us are one perceived insult away from wrestling in the bleachers. One forgotten turn signal away from an altercation on the roadside, or one misunderstanding away from a night spent in handcuffs.

It feels, and again I may be mistaken, as if too many of us are just waiting for the provocation that will validate all of our pent-up frustrations.

An us-against-them mentality has become pervasive in our world even if the lines between us and them are too blurred to truly recognize.

You see it in Washington, where hyper-partisan politics make it impossible to simply disagree. Instead, sides must be chosen and vendettas never forgotten as if we all aren't pulling for the same basic outcome.

You see it on the Internet, where anonymity and distance have made civility seem like a relic from the past. Taunts and insults you would not normally consider when in the presence of others are now a routine and accepted way of making a point.

You see it in media, where outrageousness pays and divisiveness sells. It sometimes feels as if the entire concept of us-versus-them was born on talk radio.

You see it in religion, race, class, culture, gender, generation and geography.

And just to be clear, I'm not suggesting hate and ire are new to the world. You could certainly point out that trigger fingers were quicker and bigotry more vile in bygone days.

I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about educated, intelligent and otherwise sophisticated people snapping over the relatively insignificant.

I'm talking about disputes escalating beyond reasonable measure, and I'm talking about confrontations that are more about ego than principle.

Of course, it's possible I'm overreacting. It's possible my mood has darkened upon seeing pictures of an adorable little girl who will soon struggle to remember the man she called Daddy. It's possible I have read of the long and distinguished career of a former Tampa police captain, and was perplexed as to how it could be tossed aside over something so inconsequential.

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To be sure, there are more tangible debates worth having in the wake of this movie theater shooting. The ramifications of carrying a loaded gun into a business that clearly prohibits weapons, for instance. The question of whether Florida's "stand your ground'' law applies in this specific case, and whether the law itself encourages confrontations.

But those are legal questions, and they are better argued in courtrooms and, perhaps, in legislative chambers.

For now, I keep thinking about the roots of anger.

And the way it often grows into heartbreak.


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