Amy Winehouse and the Norway killings

The death of singer Amy Winehouse at the age of 27 connects, I think, with the terrible events in Norway. Both stories concern mental illness of a certain sort, and in both cases the social and cultural context plays a role.

For Amy Winehouse: She was clearly ill, and yet in our culture she could not be forced to receive treatment, and arguably we don’t have very effective treatment as yet for problems such as hers. We can only wait for more effective treatments to be developed, but on the first point, what are the limits of personal freedom? Do we have an obligation to intervene when someone is clearly destroying herself?

On Norway: In a culture that tolerates bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and violence, a few less stable individuals will inevitably follow these leads to their logical conclusion. Again we come up against the question of limits on personal freedom. We also confront the demons that afflict the human soul—to use a traditional way of describing them. Perhaps before too long the physical causes of such aberrations in brain structure or chemistry will have been identified: what then?

In the meantime, we in international schools have a special opportunity to take seriously the proposition that people from very different backgrounds can not just live in peace but can come to know and understand and love one another—a proposition we see supported every day in our students. We need to give this more conscious thought and attention, and examine closely the areas in our own school communities where it is not yet completely true: where groups or individuals are, subtly or obviously, segregated from the majority.

And in our national communities we need to be less complacent about pools of hatred, fear, bigotry, and violence. These sub-communities on the margins of society need attention, not neglect. And wherever we see the same trends, we need to speak out against them. Especially in political discourse, we must insist on dialogue that is respectful and non-violent. The mass media, which profit directly from sensation and scandal and controversy, must be held to account, as well.

All in all, however, we can expect more such atrocities as happened in Norway yesterday, and more personal tragedies like the early death of Amy Winehouse, because the conditions that make them possible will change only very slowly.

4 thoughts on “Amy Winehouse and the Norway killings”

  1. A colleague on one of the IBO forums wrote,

    “The Norwegian tragedy is my tragedy– they’re my children who are lost. The famine in the horn of Africa is my hunger. My children are starving. Amy Winehouse, that celebrity whom so many people followed because of her outrageous behavior but who was forgotten and abandoned when she needed help most– she’s my daughter, or sister, or cousin who succumbed to her addiction and perished.”

  2. The paraplegic man in the street that I have never seen before who is begging, is my brother; I think he eats little but I hope he never starves to death. Now for the current now echoed happenings: the young ladies and men whose lives ended are my sisters and brothers; they looked forward to their annual camp as I looked forward to my summer abroad in a very far-away land. The girl who sings with such a distinct voice, she was just another far-away sister that came up in my life through media every so often. I see everyone as a sibling, friend, or loved one because I sincerely view a complete stranger from somewhere I have never been as a person just like me. I speak to an old couple who doesn’t speak my language but they are just like me so I grasp their meaning in other modes. I scream at my blood sister harshly, hoping she won’t neglect her health again, and wish for another sister on the road I may see to throw away that garbage lighted stick that obviously does no good. I do want to tell my brothers, aunts, friends, and so on who I have never come across and maybe will never in my lifetime, to become enlightened. To go away from what they know, and experience a life that is not theirs, and then they will understand the beauty in differences. I yearn for all humans to realize at the end of the day what makes us more meaningful to each other, and what allows us to make earth a place for life, is us as people, no matter where we are from or what our beliefs are. What makes us distinct as much as PHI is to nature, we are to each other; so listen, smell, hear, taste, feel, and look around for each other’s well being as if it was our brother’s and sister’s.

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