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July 22, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Letters from a Young Contrarian

Early last year, George Zimmerman fatally shot a 17-year-old black male named Trayvon Martin. Last week, Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering the boy who Barack Obama said looked like the son he never had, by reason of self-defence. Much can be said about the case in terms of the ongoing issues America faces; issues like racial profiling, gun violence and self-defence laws. Indeed, too much has been said – old arguments rehashed, demands for change in the justice system made yet again, tired calls for introspection falling on deaf ears, like so many broken records. Everyone’s an expert. But there is something being left out of the debate, and that is that most people should leave themselves and their opinions out of the debate.

Everyone likes to have an opinion; it’s uncomfortable not to. Did David Bain commit familicide? Was Scott Guy murdered by his brother-in-law Ewen? Ask any New Zealander and chances are you’ll either hear an emphatic ‘yes’ or an equally assertive ‘no’. Rarely will you hear a person answer in the neutral. Most of the time, people’s views are guided by nothing more than a few facts gleaned from the media, or a gut feeling they got when they saw the person. A liberal seems more likely to want to believe in a person’s innocence; those tough on law and order try to find guilt. If the shoe fits, we say, they likely wore it. Never mind the fact that the police never found the dive-boot or figured out who was wearing the bloody sock. Never mind the fact that the jurors sat through weeks of evidence and testimony. Somehow, we know better than them.

What’s the solution? Ambivalence. Ambivalence refers to the state of experiencing conflicting beliefs or feelings simultaneously. The prefix ‘ambi-‘ means both (as in ambidextrous); the suffix ‘-valence’ refers to the attraction felt toward something (as in Level 1 Science). Someone can
feel a positive or negative valence. Or both. Ambivalence is not the same as indifference, with which it is often confused. Someone in an ambivalent state of mind has an excess of opinion, not an absence of it. An ambivalent person can feel very strongly about a subject, without ever reaching anything like a coherent point of view on it.

So, when we find out that Zimmerman called 911 before the killing and said, “Fucking punks, these assholes always get away”, we might be led to believe that he intended to dish out some vigilante justice and is therefore a murderer. But we might also think that no one would murder someone having just called 911, knowing that police are on the way. And we might conclude that both arguments make sense.

Much was made of the part Trayvon’s race played in the killing—he was black—but no one mentions the fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic. In our race to paint the world black and white we forget that in truth, reality is coloured different shades of grey.

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