How I Could Just Kill a Man

Comments 45
We can be so cruel to one another. When we are kind, who do we choose? And why?
We can be so cruel to one another. Why are we kind to some people and not others? What’s the difference? (Image/

I could kill a person trying to harm my son.

I could kill a person trying to harm others I love or in self-defense.

I could kill a person trying to harm other innocent people if in the moment it was clear the act would save lives.

I may not have the physical tools or weapons to get the job done on a case-by-case basis. But I could muster the nerve. If the stakes were that high. I’m sure of it.

But what if the person causing harm was my father? Or my sister? Or my childhood best friend?

How long might I hesitate if this hypothetical person I’m so certain I could kill was someone who resides permanently on my “People I Don’t Want to Kill” list?

Who matters?

Who doesn’t?

Where do I draw that line?

Of all the things I never want to do, I think killing someone ranks No. 1. And I don’t mean murder. That should go without saying. But even a “justifiable” killing. The thought of taking a life makes me very uncomfortable.

I don’t know very many people who have killed someone. The few I do are older men who were once soldiers at war. The curiosity in me has always wanted to try to coax those stories out of them. To get a sense of the feelings those memories manifest.

But I’ve always stopped short of asking because I don’t want to ask men to relive what are likely their worst memories.

Is This the World We Want?

I’ve been asking myself the following question every day for about a week now.

What is the difference between the people who matter and the people who don’t?

Where do we draw the line? Between all of the people we care about or treat kindly or help versus those we don’t care about, treat poorly or ignore altogether?

The idea popped into my head while reading Tom Shadyac’s Life’s Operating Manual. Shadyac is something of an anti-capitalist. He and I don’t see eye-to-eye on economic theory. BUT. I do respect very much where he’s coming from when he poses the very thought-provoking question: What separates the people you are willing to profit from, from the people you simply want to help?

He argues that the mindset of capitalism—always trying to maximize profits and charge as much as possible for goods and services—makes the human experience so much uglier than it should be.

For example, he says, if someone you love very much needed help—didn’t have food or clothes or shelter—you would instantly invite them into your home, and feed them, clothe them and let them stay with you (without asking for anything in return.)

Generally speaking, I think this is true of most of us.

But then we walk around major cities, or even suburban Ohio communities like where I live, and occasionally see people asking for help.

Maybe they’re really homeless and have good hearts.

Or maybe they’re really con artists.

Or maybe they’re really drunks or addicts looking to score a fix.

No matter what the situation, I submit all of those people could use help of some kind.

Who Matters?

Everyone ranks the people in their lives relative to their specific circumstances.

But I think this is representative of the general order in which we value people.

1. Spouse/Partner/Significant other and children

2. Parents and siblings

3. Friends

4. Neighbors

5. Co-workers and acquaintances

6. Strangers who are like us (Social, spiritual, economic, cultural, geographic commonalities)

7. Strangers who are not like us

8. Known enemies

Where do you draw the line?

Where on this list do you decide: “That person means so much to me that I want to help them with their problem,” as opposed to your cut-off point? The place where you say: “Screw ‘em. I don’t care. I have enough problems. Let them figure it out for themselves,” or worse: “That person isn’t like me, so I don’t like them and I’m going to hurt them.”

This question about who matters versus who doesn’t makes me think about the post-apocalyptic world on display in The Walking Dead.

It truly is survival of the fittest and every man for himself.

Every stranger is a threat. Someone who might steal your supplies, murder you, or murder you so they can steal your supplies.

But often, after a warming-up, get-to-know-you period—after one of the strangers puts his or her life on the line in service of others—trust is formed.

Bonds are built.

And these strangers, these random people who didn’t care about each other days or weeks ago, morph from stranger to acquaintance, from acquaintance to friend, and (if you believe as I do that you don’t have to share blood to be family) from friend to family.

These people who were threats become people you will sacrifice everything for.

There are bad people in this world. Threats. People who in a lot of ways don’t deserve our kindness, generosity, charity, help, whatever.

An irresponsible or naïve Pollyanna-like view of life benefits no one.

But I don’t know how to muster the cynicism required to not believe that everyone deserves a fair shake. That every person deserves a baseline amount of respect and benefit of the doubt before we rush to judgment.

We don’t need to write a 10-page letter to their boss petitioning for their promotion, but being courteous to the customer service representative on the phone who is NOT responsible for our problem seems reasonable.

We don’t need to invite every kid in school to our birthday party, but smiling at them, not engaging in bullying and treating people kindly doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

We don’t need to give our weekly paycheck to the guy panhandling outside the grocery store, but maybe a sandwich and a bottle of water would serve to nourish more than just his hunger and thirst.

We allow ourselves to disconnect and then we treat people like enemies.

People who, if we were stuck in a survival situation with, might become our family.

I know a little boy who—just seven years ago—wasn’t even a figment of anyone’s imagination.

And today I love him above all else and would do the unthinkable to keep him safe.

And I want him to live in a world where we don’t scream at each other and bully people on social media and hate one another because our skin color isn’t the same or because we care about different things.

Maybe we can be one little ripple in the pond. One kind act at a time.

And maybe those acts can cause more ripples because others agree that these arbitrary barriers we put up between us and other people seems like a silly reason to completely change the way we treat one another.

And maybe good spreads.

And then maybe there are fewer 12-year-old kids in Catholic school cafeterias celebrating the release of a Cypress Hill rap song called “How I Could Just Kill a Man.”

Even if those kids do grow up wanting to be part of the solution.

45 thoughts on “How I Could Just Kill a Man”

  1. completelyinthedark

    Just took a gander at the Shadyac book on amazon. Wow. Great stuff. Now I’ve got four new books to read one after the other 😉

    Thanks again for another thoughtful post, Matt.

    In other news, I have a date Sunday with a new woman friend that I met last Tuesday. Sounds like she’s looking forward to hanging again, too! Maybe spring has finally sprung. 😉

    cheers my friend, MM

    1. Yay for Spring springing! That is good news, sir.

      It’s incredible what something simple like someone wanting to date you can do for your worldview.

      Appreciate you reading, sir. I’ll be interested to hear what you make of the Shadyac book if you end up taking the plunge.

  2. I might have to read this book, just went and looked. I don’t usually do this, it is impolite however, private message me through my blog and I will give you a link to my story (it is in my blog). Maybe it will give you part of the answer to part of the question. No, I didn’t kill anyone, however I was nearly murdered and I did have to ponder the question.

  3. I heard someone say, “You are not really helping a person unless you are inconvenienced in some way.”

    Sometimes I work in Detroit. There are so many homeless people there sometimes you are asked for change several times in a day by different people. More times than not I will provide a little change because it’s not really an inconvenience to do so. I’m there, have loose change that I won’t miss and it’s easy. They always smile and seem really happy that I gave them change. That feels good.

    When someone calls me and asks for a favor I try so damn hard to act like I am attentive and ready to jump at the chance. In truth, most of the time, I sigh inside and wonder if I can make a good enough excuse to get out of it. That’s shitty I know but it’s true.. I will say too that more times than not I do help even when it’s not on my way and a total inconvenience because I believe it’s the right thing to do.

    I have a story about almost killing someone too. As I mentioned I find myself in Detroit sometimes. It’s been my experience that no matter where you need to go in Detroit you will have to drive into a really bad area of town to get there. I know this so I am always prepared for the unthinkable.

    Last summer I was driving to a job site and stopped at a red light where the homes were all burnt out and business boarded up. A guy approached my passenger side door and tried to open it. Like I said I’m always prepared and aware so as the handle clicked I presented said protection with the intent of protecting myself. He saw this and ran. I was shaking like hell and sped off just as fast as I could.

    I thought about what would have happened if my door wasn’t locked and he actually got in. Would I have shot first and asked questions later? Yes I would have. Then what? How would I sleep that night and what next?

    1. I respond to opportunities for charity and helping people nearly the same. I hope I didn’t come off in this post like I’m some great person. FAR from it. But I do want to be.

      RE: Helping people.

      I don’t always think heroism is the really big thing we read about in stories or see on TV.

      Sometimes, I think helping people is just being kind to someone when they needed it. Perhaps at a particularly difficult time in their lives.

      Who knows what chain of events can transpire following a well-timed smile, or a random act of kindness?

      Sometimes change starts with a whisper.

      Scary story about the would-be carjacker. I know there are A LOT of anti-gun people in this world and I respect each one of them.

      But your story is precisely why I’m not opposed to law-abiding citizens having them.

      I’m so glad you weren’t hurt, didn’t have to pull the trigger, and aren’t saddled with the complications that would follow.

  4. As always, some things to ponder. Where do we draw the line?
    I was listening to NPR and I heard the wife of a doctor (I think with Doctors Without Borders, MSF) who was killed last week say that she didn’t blame the shooter, that she forgave that person for killing her husband. I was standing, feeding my kids dinner, and I was caught off-guard. I got the chokey voice. When my kids asked why, I had to explain that level of forgiveness. It’s difficult enough to fathom let alone explain. But what a lesson…

    1. I know the chokey voice.

      I am not a big-enough person to forgive someone for killing my loved one (assuming it was senseless?) a week after the fact.

      That’s next-level.

      I’m sorry you had to have that conversation with your children.

      Thank you for reading, Jen. I appreciate your time very much.

  5. uneffingbelievable

    What is truly sad is most people rely heavily on #6 on your list when deciding upon whom they should help. Years ago, I saw M. Scott Peck (“The Road Less Traveled”) on a talk show and he said something remarkable. He said that we as human beings all want the same things. If you divided people into groups according to race, sexual preference, economic status, religious affilliation, etc. and then told them to go make their own society, those societies would be very much the same. The stipulations were that no one could be filthy rich, where everything was equal in terms of what people could afford, etc. Anyway, he said that what you would see is people with jobs, a family, a home to live in, a car to drive – in a word, contentment.

    Captialism is very different than it was just thirty years ago. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. Take the auto industry, for example. The big three made huge profits for their shareholders, paid their CEOs and management staff well, and their line workers made a living wage. A person could work on the line at the Ford plant and own a home, feed his family, provide health care for his children, and when the time came, could retire and live out his golden years. Also, the suburbs benefitted with tool and dye shops and the like. Then corporate greed set in and they wanted more profits, decided they could do it faster, cheaper, with less people, in foreign countries. And Detroit died.

    The “thug” who tried to carjack your reader is probably the grandson of an assembly line worker. A man who has no hope. A man sentenced to live in a dead city with no prospects for a future. That man is nothing like me, but he deserves respect and kindness like every other human being.

    1. Thank you for the interesting, relevant and thought-provoking comment.

      I would never want to get into any sort of economic debate, because I’m not smart enough to have super-strong opinions in any direction.

      But I do agree with you. Capitalism is not what it used to be.

      However. Ever the optimist, it IS the same in that ANYONE with a great idea and some sticktoitiveness can change his or her life.

      You can go from nobody to someone with enormous reach.

      My argument for capitalism, if I were to make one, is that there are no limits to potential achievement.

      It’s very unfortunate when people whose life philosophies don’t line up with mine in terms of how I think people should be treated acquire lots of power and than misuse it to ruin lives.

      The only thing I know to do is encourage all the good people to make the most of their lives and serve others when possible.

      The truth is, really good people can make any economic model or system of government work.

      And sadly, we don’t always have really good people steering the boat.

    2. I am afraid you have your history wrong. It wasn’t corporate greed that killed Detroit and the American auto industry. It was foreign competition and unions who refused to understand that. Growing up, I knew people who worked in auto industry and they used to brag about how good a deal they got. They were paid a good wage and great benefits including time and a half for overtime and double time for Sundays and holidays. Then there were the work rules. If one group had to work overtime, everyone had to be offered overtime. These people would go into work on the weekends, get paid overtime, and sit around and play cards. They thought this was great.

      Back in the 60’s and 70’s the auto industry could just pass on the costs to the consumer. Once we had foreign competition, that no longer worked. Unions refused to compromise, and the rest is history. Unions did a lot for American workers a hundred years ago, but they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Unfortunately, the took the auto industry and much of the US industrial base with them.

      1. uneffingbelievable

        The above comment perfectly illustrates the question you posed. The gentleman above thinks that the auto workers did it to themselves and has viable facts to back it up. I see it as corporate greed and there are viable facts to back that up. Whatever the “history”, the human toll is devastating. And the attitude of “they got what they deserved” is what is keeping our country from flourishing.

  6. Beautifully written. I agree, I would do anything; ANYTHING to keep my son safe. I would even rip out a guy’s throat like Rick did to get to his son, to save him. I’d do it without hesitation. People always ask me why I am so obsessed with the Walking Dead; it’s because of what you stated in the above. It’s the stories, and how these people choose who they will give a chance to, or kill off right away. It’s the real life scenarios (although in a zombie apocalypse), that happen in our real world. But in our world, people kill people for senseless things, not for protection, survival, etc. Think last weekend when the kid killed the girl because she wouldn’t be his date for prom; and we are not taken aback by it in the slightest. But I can tell you that someone is tormented. Someone is seriously taken aback: that’s that girl’s family, and even the other kid’s family, because they won’t ever see their son again either. When will crap like that stop? Never… Just another pipe dream. And bullying: don’t get me started on that. My little brother gets picked on at school because he is bigger (taller and a little wider) than the rest of the kids in his class. He has a few loyal friends, and together, they all kind of take-up/protect each other. A lot of these situations could be avoided if parents did their jobs and were parents: not best friends to their child, afraid of hurting their feelings. Mental health is another problem. We aren’t treating these diseases and we are seeing the outcome of that. Mental health… Another story for another day. Thanks for the article!!

    1. Thank you for getting The Walking Dead thing. I appreciate that. I always tell people, it’s not a show about zombies. It’s a show about human beings surviving the apocalypse… that just happens to have zombies in it. 🙂

      Good human stories in that show.

      You touch on a lot of important things here. I’m so glad this got you thinking about all of those things. Mission accomplished, I guess.

      Appreciate very much your contribution and your time.

      Thank you very much for reading.

      1. That is exactly what I say! It’s not about the zombies, people (even though they do look awesome). They’re there to add to the frustration of the whole thing! 🙂

  7. I remember thinking along the same lines of ‘I would kill to protect my children’ when they were small. And then something somebody said to me, made me turn the whole thing upside down. Instead of killing, how much would you as a parent give up? When you think in terms of sacrificing (your life, your kidney, a holiday or maybe even an evening doing something really boring with them that they find enjoyable) then I think you really do realise exactly what they mean to you. I think we’d all take it a bullet, its the day to day mundane stuff we need to perfect.

    1. This is so true.

      The little moments with them. The little missed opportunities.

      They’re the easiest to overlook. And in the end, likely the things that will matter most.

  8. Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs translates to every person on this earth regardless or race, creed or colour. Although in this world, self preservation seems to be rampant it is important to realise that others hurt and bleed in the same way as we do.
    It’s a difficult situation. I was once described as a lioness protecting her cubs during my difficult divorce proceedings. I like to think that I was however as much as I dislike my ex-husband I doubt that I would go as far as to kill him.
    What you have written is extremely thought provoking Matt and bears a lot of further thought/

    1. Thank you for giving it your attention for a few minutes.

      I really think the logical conclusion is that there is NO DIFFERENCE between the people we care about and the people we don’t.

      We just know them better and they make us feel good to be around them.

      We’d do well to think of strangers as people who would also make us feel good to be around if we got to know them better.

      So, if they need something–even if it’s just a smile or kind word, it seems like a good idea to provide it.

  9. i think in order to take a life, you have to be willing to give your own…
    imo, its more important to ask, who or what are the things you would die to protect? is a stranger worth your life? would my children agree with that?

    protect the people and the things you care about, by all means. but protect yourself, for the people who care about you!

    coz sometimes, theres helping people out, and theres helping yourself “out” literally. stepping in to help out a stranger, can get you killed. sure, you die trying to be a hero, or perhaps you actually are, but the people who wish they could still call you on the phone, or see you when you get home from work. think youre kind of a dumbass.

  10. Every human life has value and should be valued. Every single human being deserves to be treated with a basic level of dignity and respect no matter what they’ve done or where they are in life. (This is something I feel strongly…and am maybe even passionate about). When people start ranking themselves or certain types or people above others they start to devalue those they see as lower than themselves.

    The Walking Dead is such a great show because it creates thought provoking scenarios that give insight into humanity & human nature.
    Plus zombies are super fun.

    1. I don’t fundamentally have a problem being closer to certain people than others. It’s something that occurs very naturally.

      I do have a problem with a lack of empathy and compassion for strangers, as if they’re not connected to us.

      1. Nor do I (on both account) but I do have a problem when people see themselves or groups of people as inherently better or more valuable than others.
        Our value as human beings is not based on what we have accomplished, contribute, or posses.

      2. Just a side note, a disclaimer if you will, I am very very tired right now & don’t know if I’m saying anything of relevance, importance, cohesiveness, or even anything that makes sense.
        It happens sometimes.

  11. The world will never change. WE need to change so the world can. Our resistance to change and to change properly, with good intentions, will keep us stagnant. And in that boredom is born. Out of that comea all the nastiness.
    We all matter. Each a piece of an ever-evolving puzzle…the kind that seem to go on forever (a ba-gillion piece sky puzzle! Lol.) and ever. If we really want to see a change in the world we need to really want to change. Sometimes I fear we are all too comfortable as the pieces we are…
    If only we could grasp the picture we could become.

    1. There’s reason to believe–or a least hope–that humans will evolve in time to at least get this par right.

  12. I have a couple of things. First, I didn’t know for many years if I would be able to kill someone if I was in a position to save someone I loved. It was an open question. Then I had a dream. In the dream, a man was beating my grandfather. I put a gun under his chin and told him to stop. He refused. I pulled the trigger. That dream let me know, that if the situation arose, I would in fact be able to kill to protect a loved one.

    More recently, a drunk driver hit my daughter’s car killing my grandson and severely injuring her. That driver is someone I could kill without remorse. I think most people are capable of far more than they initially imagine when they are young.

    Second thing…your definition of capitalism is wrong. Capitalism is not about maximizing profits. Maximizing profits implies coercion which is antithetical to capitalism. Capitalism is about the free exchange of goods and services. Most people who claim to oppose capitalism don’t even know what it is.

  13. I still blast ‘Hand On The Pump’ in my Volkswagen. Society should be thankful it doesn’t have to witness that amount awkwardness firsthand.

    Mildly related, I think: I reflect on humanity…and think about our commonalities. Setting aside real childhood tragedy such as violence, famine, war, abuse, indoctrinated hatred…kids (and thus adults) all had similar fundamental experiences growing up. What I mean to say is we all laughed at some point, celebrated a birthday or something…whatever you want as an example. And I truly believe that that innocence and goodness is in each of us. Even twisted terrorists and racist greedy billionaires are human beings who at one time shared a lot with the “regular” people….they still have that in them deep inside I suspect.

    There’s something fundamental about being human. Humanity. Something intrinsic that allows us to give each other another chance, or a helping hand. As well as the ability to set pride aside and accept that help.

    I don’t know what I’m saying except that we spend a lot of time figuring out right and wrong, and figuring out what makes us different…it doesn’t hurt to think about how we’re all similar as well.

    It’s likely idealistic of me to think the intrinsic good in mankind can be brought to the surface in every “regular” case, but there’s something there.

    Thanks for your post. Excellent as always.

    1. I’m so glad you get where I’m coming from.

      I don’t know what I’m saying either. I don’t have pie-in-the-sky ideas about world peace and kumbaya and all that. I just want rational adults like me to be open-minded and maybe rethink, as I have, the way we do things, and why.

  14. The problem posed by capitalism is that it is an economic system, not a moral system. Profit is its highest goal. That’s not an indictment of capitalism, it is merely acknowledging its nature. “Socialism” (the most misunderstood word in America) is a hybrid system in which people, through their government, restrain the naked ambition of capitalism with an overlay of basic moral values. Capitalism doesn’t care if children eat or seniors get medicine; socialism does. And America’s capitalist economy has been moderated by socialist politics and programs for nearly a century now.

    Your question, “Who matters?” is the central theme of the knife fight that is our politics at this moment. We have to answer the question for not only ourselves, but also for our society: “What matters?” What world do you want your son to inherit? It’s all of a piece.

    1. Based on what you and Matt have posted I would say “capitalism” is the most misunderstood word in America and probably the world. Capitalism does not have profit as its highest goal. Capitalism is the free exchange of goods and services. It is a moral system because it depends on a legal system which prevents coercion. In a true capitalist system, all transactions are made by mutual consent and for mutual benefit. The US has never been a truly capitalist system since it has allowed government to pick winners and losers. With government intrusion into the market system, it stopped being capitalist.

      Socialism is not moral because it depends on coercion. Whether you like it or not, taxation is confiscation by force. However laudable you may believe the goal may be, the fact that coercion is at the heart of the system makes it ultimately immoral. I believe a system could be created in which necessary government services are paid for without the current system which rewards some and punishes others. Just because you may approve of what the government does, does not make it moral.

      1. That is intellectual lipstick on an ideological pig.

        I’ll take taxes and seat belts over child labor and burning rivers, thank you. (Goodbye now)

      2. 1. I don’t talk about politics here because I believe strongly that political debate divides us.

        2. I wasn’t defining capitalism. I was, going off memory, repeating Shadyac’s take on it, and I identified him as an anti-capitalist who I disagreed with on the subject.

        3. I am fiscally conservative and don’t believe government has any business making decisions for people about anything. But on a case-by-case basis, I keep stumbling on situations that, gone unregulated, end up hurting more people than when they’re regulated. Corruption. Greed. There are a lot of gray areas, despite my predominantly libertarian leanings.

        There would appear to be some confusion about where I stand.

        I believe in a free market. I believe in very-limited government intrusion. I also believe greed and profit-hungry behavior often hurts people.

        People > Money

        I share a lot of human rights opinions of liberals. However, I vehemently disagree with the idea that government agencies should be mandating social programs and confiscating our money to pay for them.

        In other words, I’d be a Republican if they weren’t such hypocritical assholes, and I’d be a Democrat if they didn’t believe Big Brother knows more than we do about how to live our lives, teach our children, run our businesses, consume our food, etc. Neither of the two main parties choose pragmatism or cooperation to solve mutually beneficial problems. It’s all about political points and getting re-elected. Thus, I like neither.

      3. Matt, it sounds like you and I are pretty close politically. My intent wasn’t to discuss politics but rather to clear up some popular misconceptions about economic models. I realize it is always difficult and dangerous to try to inform those who steadfastly want to believe in their own misunderstandings. I still try from time to time. I apologize if I hijacked your blog in my attempt.

    2. stvrsnbrgr, thank you for proving my point. You still don’t understand. Under a pure capitalist system, child labor would not exist because children cannot provide legal consent. Burning rivers would not exist because pollution is a unilateral action, not one mutually agreed on. Like many people, you equate capitalism with anarchy and nothing could be further from the truth. That these things happened in the past shows just how far from capitalism we have been. Blaming capitalism for things it specifically prohibits is intellectually dishonest.

      1. You are the only one discussing “pure” systems. The rest of us live here in the real world, where the damage from under-regulated capitalism and irresponsible governance has worsening for decades and is reaching a tipping point. This is not an argument we’re having, because until you leave the realm of fantasy, we’re not even talking about the same things. And I’m sure Matt will be happy for us to stop polluting his comment thread!

  15. Oprah always says “people just want to know they matter”. It’s enough to acknowledge people when we are out, look them in the eye, smile, say hi, make small talk to the waitress (or waiter) or the cashier.
    I work with a lot of kids. Kids tend to think they are invisible because most grown ups to pay them any attention other than yelling at them. I always make a point to speak directly to the children. Even the kids who have disabilities and can not talk back, I still talk to them. There is one girl in particular, that comes in to my clinic…She’s wheelchair bound and has a lot of trouble controlling her body movement. I always tell her how cute she looks, how she’s always wearing adorable jewelry or the color looks good on her. To me, I get such a joy out of seeing her smile when she comes in and sees me…smiling back at her. She waves when she leaves.
    That makes me feel good.
    People just want to know they matter…and it really doesn’t take a whole hel of a lot of effort to do that.

    1. You’re always thoughtful, Dawn. And you’ve been kind enough to visit and contribute here for a very long time.

      I don’t think you’ve ever left a more-touching, more-thoughtful, more-helpful comment than this one.

      Look directly at children and talk to them. I’m going to think about that.

      Thank you.

      1. It saddens me to see how many of them are surprised when I speak to them. It’s like they think they are invisible.
        The children are our future…let them know they matter.

  16. Kindness and compassion. Two relatively small words that encompass the human condition. They are, without a doubt, the two biggest commodities in any society. Sadly though, are all too often beyond the reach of many.

    Great post, Matt. As always! 🙂

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