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Last week I had the privilege of being involved in a great day full of fun and entertainment, when I attended a virtual launch party for CJ West’s latest book. The End of Marking Time, is essentially about a career criminal, who is shot, and wakes up, four years later to find that the laws of the land have changed, and all prisoners have be released, into “relearning”. It is an excellent, thought-provoking, compelling thriller, that I would highly recommend. That isn’t the actual topic of this post, just a touch of background.

I am a huge believer, that everyone deserves a second chance in life, unless of course they injure a child or the elderly, or infirmed. Then, I think they should fry, and there should be no passing go, no collecting $200. They need to be removed from society, and never heard from again. I have often, in my daydreams, thought that an inescapable island, in the middle of nowhere, would be perfect for those kinds of people. Drop them there, and let them all fend for themselves, any way they can. Let the molesters, and abusers take care of each other. They would end up getting their just desserts there, I think.

I also, have never been the follower in the bunch. I never dressed the same as the other kids in school. I never talked like the other kids in school. I didn’t jump on any particular band wagon out there. I drank underage, only a couple of time, out of curiosity, not peer pressure. I tried pot a couple of times, for the same reason. I preferred to do the things other kids didn’t. My love of reading has been life-long. I loved drama. I was almost always, unintentionally, teacher’s pet, because I enjoyed getting good grades, and standing out. Surprised? Probably not so much, if you know me at all. I have opinions on everything, and I love to speak my mind. I generally always say what other people may have been thinking, but were afraid to say. Again, not the follower, by any stretch.

Now the reason I ran off on those two tangents, was to set up the scene I am about to relay. I am sympathetic to the underdog, who needs a second chance, and I am not easily led. However, I found out last week, that I can be led down the garden path, and fall into mob mentality. I am more surprised by that myself, then probably most people will be. It shocked me, and made me sit back and take stock, a wee bit. I honesty believed I was stronger than that. Allow me to explain.

There was a chatroom set up, as part of the launch party, and that is really something right up my alley. I love attention, shocker, and I love to chat, another shock, I know. I knew I would enjoy this, as we were going to be able to ask questions, and interact with the main character from The End of Marking Time. He is supposed to be locked in a hallway, trying to convince us, as the possible jury, to give him another chance. Again, I will say, that from having read the book, Michael O’Connor, never physically hurt anyone. He was a career criminal, mostly due to the circumstances of his upbringing. OK, stage is set.

I read the entire book, feeling sympathetic towards this fictional character. I say that, because at one point through the next 5 hours of chat, I actually felt sorry for the imaginary man in the box. Maybe a lot more than just one, if truth be told. He was pleading with us to “press the green button”, which would afford him his second chance. I had decided from reading the book jacket, and it was reinforced reading the book, that I would have pressed the green button, and opted for rehabilitation. I love to find the good in people. It is really who I am, and what I am all about, except in the previously mention case of those who intentionally hurt others. I fully intended to try and convince others in the room, to push that button as well.

Over the course of the five hour adventure, there was no sympathy from the crowd. Some of the people had some very vicious things they thought they would like to do to Michael. Cooking him in a stew, adding water to the room and watch him drown, generally pretty nasty stuff. People were mocking him and taunting him constantly. Granted, CJ played him a bit more caustically in this venue than he did in the book. I will say that he didn’t answer questions well. A good portion of that came from the fact that the majority of the participants in the room had not read the book, and for him to answer some of the questions, would have given away vital plot information.

I will state, for the record, that I still continued, through it all to say to Michael, CJ and the crowd that I would still press the green button. It wasn’t a popular stance, but it was mine to take. The most shocking thing, of all, was the fact that on at least a couple of occasions, I taunted him too. I didn’t threaten him in any way at all, which would have sickened me had I gone that far with the crowd, but I did get in to that mob way of thinking, and I poked the bear through the cage bars. I would never have believed myself capable of that, had I not actually experienced it. I am grateful it was all make believe and, in fun and jest, but it still made me stop and think. It was the first time I can actually remember, being pushed along with the crowd and atmosphere, surrounding me. It was not, in any means, a comfortable feeling for me. It is not a place I would like to be in. I lead, I do not follow, but I went.

It makes me stop and pause for more than just a second. If I can go down that path, and I have always fought not to, what about people who are not strong, who need to fit in, anywhere. I can not condone violence, on any level, having been a victim of spousal abuse, but I could, briefly, almost see where it could be so easy for a good person to act a certain way, if led into it by an angry, passionate crowd. I am able to hold my own on most issues, but what if I were the type of person who believed what the next guy did? I have finally been convinced, that we all have the capacity to get caught up in the crowd, and led, to places we never would consider going, on our own, and thinking as ourselves. It was almost a crushing realization for me. I don’t regret coming to this conclusion, not for a minute. It will make me a more understanding person, even than I already was. It will make it a little easier for me to empathize with someone who has gotten “talked” in to following the wrong crowd. I am seriously wondering, however, if I need to take time to contemplate how well the reverse works. Can someone who is inherently bad, be led by a large crowd doing good? I would certainly love to think so. I think I have to believe that, for the optimist in me to be able to continue believing in the good in people.

So, all being said, it really was a great time. I think anytime we enter into a situation, that leads us to understand ourselves and our weaknesses better, is definitely a cause for celebration. I don’t like what I learned about myself, on that particular garden path, but I think it was a valuable lesson, one well-worth exploring. You truly never know when a life lesson will present itself, but I am grateful I grabbed on to that one with both hands, and followed the path I was meant to follow. Yes, I said “follow”.

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