As I imagine and know is the case with many of you I have been captivated and horrified by the recent events in Boston. The tragedy leaves so many questions and shakes, yet again, our sense of safety and security. One of the common themes I have been noticing in the hopeful and prayerful posts of other bloggers and on facebook is the intentional noticing of the good that such horrors bring into such sharp relief. No one could help but comment on how many people ran towards those who were injured and how people collectively and without designated leadership did what needed to be done. Spontaneously organized group of bystanders pulled down barriers, transported the wounded and helped in what ever way they knew how. This kindness, this disregard for self in the name of caring for another in need, is rightly pointed out as a counter balance to the horror and the evil that called the need into existence in the first place. So this got me thinking. Maybe life here on earth and our moral worthiness is really a Group Check.
I mentioned in my first post that I am a player of dungeons and dragons. And before I launch into my Group Check discussion a pause to orient those of you less nerdy than myself as to what this "D&D" is all about. If you have heard of it you likely have an image of dorky young men, potentially trench coat wearing, carrying around homemade swords and demanding to be called Trulingard, Destroyer of Evil, Slayer of Orcs. At least that is what I thought it was all about and was kind of dismayed when my sister suggested we start a game. My hubby was quickly on board and I kind of got dragged along. D&D is a role playing game. It is kind of a highly complicated board game where you get to control what the characters do within a set of contraints set up by the game creators. For a full description of it straight from them, check this out.
One person in the group plays what is called the Dungeon Master (DM for short). This person controls all the bad guys and help guides the story and the players. If you want to do something in the game the DM also determines what kind of check you need to make first. For example, you say, I am going to walk up to that bar tender and hit on him, the DM says, okay, make a diplomacy check. You have a predetermined number for diplomacy that is based on all sorts of factors that don't matter for our purposes here, and you role your 20 sided die (D20) and add your number to it. The DM then tells you if, for example the bar tender flirts right back and hands you a free drink, or laughs in your face and starts flirting with the elf wizard at the other end of the bar.
Certain tasks are more challenging than others and take a better check, kind of like real life, it isn't enough to say, "I want to be the president" if you want that to be true you better have a pretty damn good charisma modifier, as well as a booty load of gold pieces. So a lot of what you might want to do in the game is an individual challenge just like in life. But sometimes you work together with your group. For example, you are approaching a band of goblins around a camp fire and you don't want to them to hear you approach, the DM may say, okay, make a group stealth check. Everyone one in the group then goes ahead and rolls the D20 plus their own stealth modifier. Collectively the group has to hit a certain number to pass the check. So if one of you rolls a 4, the equivalent of knocking over a coat rack as you try and sneak into a party, it may not matter, because your buddy might roll a 17 and be right there to catch the coat rack before anyone is the wiser.
So, this brings me back to Boston. After the bomb went off the great Dungeon Master said, roll a group caring check. And each player on the board rolled. I'd like to think we passed our check, that we successfully responded to the encounter with the devastating opponent. It certainly seems like we have done well this round at least. The suspects were either dead or apprehended within a week and a huge proportion of those injured were saved.
Like in dungeons and dragons though, life is not just one encounter, but a series of encounters that make up a big campaign or adventure. As a consequence of this encounter we will have many more. The individuals injured will be asked to roll strength and courage checks, the doctors treating them will be asked to roll healing checks. Thankfully we can assist one another, if someone rolls poorly on an individual check we can say, I want to help, and roll to see if we have the strength not only to take care of ourself but to help carry another as well. There will be more group checks too. Americans have a very high caring modifier but tolerance isn't always our strongest skill. As we continue to navigate our collective relationship with those of the Muslim faith will we pass or tolerance check? As the medical bills for the injured roll in and the cost of prosthetic limbs go uncovered by insurance plans will we pass the endurance check? Or will time have washed away how pressing this all felt two weeks ago and sympathy fatigue will set in, and we will fail as a group, leaving people alone with the devastating consequences of these kinds of health challenges? We haven't rolled so well on this front with our 9-11 responders.
Obviously, this metaphor gets pretty complicated as you move through time and away from the initial encounter with the bad guy. And the metaphor of the DM as God brings up all the usual questions. In D&D the DM controls the bad guys, literally creating the opportunities for the heros in the game to prove their mettle. Maybe that is how this all works, God throws out the challenges and we respond, collectively, and see how we will fair. Or maybe the group check started before the bombs went off, and the two young men who, for whatever reason did this, rolled 1's, known in the D&D world as critical fails. So it took a whole lot of high rolls to counter those two terrible rolls. Because, while it may be tempting to cast these two young men as others, as evil, as clearly and concisely, "not us", much of the evidence so far suggests otherwise. Young immigrant men, going to school, learning here, making friends, and ostensibly building their lives here. But somehow they still managed this one huge critical fail. Why were they not trained in the requisite skills they needed not to fail so disastrously? Were there group kindness checks or group tolerance checks or group paying attention checks that failed on their path to this critical fail? Did we miss opportunities to help them on individual checks they were asked to roll and failed to succeed in that we could have assisted with? Many religions focus on individual acts as the arbiters of ones fate in the world to come. But what about this world? The calculus gets so complex that only an all knowing, all powerful and hopefully loving and merciful DM could keep track of it all. But here, now, in the world we share, our group acts do so much more to create a more holy or more fearful space, and that in the end may be the point.