Court of Public Opinion: Knee-Jerk Judgments Rule

You know it always amazes me the diversity of the knee-jerk reactions people give at an “emotional” story. The news is filled with enough things these days that can cause some strong knee-jerk reactions. I guess that’s why some people don’t read the papers anymore – the emotional roller coaster one can experience hearing about the plight of others can be emotionally taxing. In that regard, I cannot blame them for taking that approach to some degree – maybe to blame the media outlets for doing too good of a job to press people’s buttons with highly sensationalized titles to go with these wrenching stories.

Don’t get me wrong, I do it too from time to time, but I try as best I can to step outside my own knee-jerk response to try to see what the facts are before coming to my own conclusions.

Where to begin: How about the story of the mom in China who flushed a literal newborn down the toilet? How about the two men in Britain suspected of beheading a UK solider in broad day light? How about the 18 y.o. Florida female teen who faces jail time due to intimate relationship with another female (who was 15 at the time)? How about Keith Hernandez referring to a broken bat as a “dead solider” during a nationally televised game on Memorial Day? This is all within the last 2 weeks.

No doubt there is enough stuff out there in the world that once we hear it, something gets stirred up in us that causes us to react to it in a knee-jerk fashion. With all of these situations, there is of course some plausible explanation to what happened. For Keith, he could have been merely using a common baseball vernacular while providing analysis. For the woman who flushed the newborn down the toilet, the full story isn’t out yet: it could be drugs, a child made from an unapproved relationship by family, etc. For the suspects beheaded the solider, the latest word out is that the killing was revenge for Muslims lost in the Iraqi and Afghan wars. For the Florida teen, she might have been merely acting on feelings she had for her lover as many teens do, regardless of gender or age.

Of course there are consequences to these situations:

  •  For the dead UK solider – a life lost and a grieving family; for the suspects  in question – lives lost if convicted, along with shame and embarrassment for their families; for the UK Muslim community, an increase in Anti-Muslim ethnically driven attacks.
  • For the Florida teen, possible jail time; for both families involved – the shame and stigma of being attached to this story in a world where once it goes viral it can never be taken back.
  • For the newborn – an immediate struggle for life and the possible psychological impact of knowing one’s mother did this to him once he gets older; for the mom attempted murder charges; for the family – shame and stigma due to the attached infamy.
  • For Keith, a reprimand from his bosses at SNY and a possible public apology the next time he is on air for his comments; in the eyes of some, another faux pas in the line of gaffes Hernandez has made of the years.

Do the possible consequences fit the situations? Legally some do, morally not all may apply.

People will always have reasons that they deem to be valid when describing their actions. It is always the moral plausibility of those reasons that always get evaluated by our societal and individual compasses and judgment gets passed, many times in quick-snap succession. While I am not condoning or excusing some of the behavior in each situation, my point here is that sometimes taking a step back and hearing all the facts first is helpful before we go off making grave moral pronouncements on stories like these. After all, Phil Collins said it best:

“We always need to hear both side of the story.”


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