But those taking swings at it have been — again, ironically — saying more about themselves than about the tragic and short life of an apparently misguided young man.
According to various news reports from Marion, Indiana, a small town in the north central part of the state, a man noticed someone had been rummaging through his cluttered garage one day about a week ago. He decided the next day to clean things up and see what was missing.
“My mind couldn't comprehend it. This can't be real,” the homeowner, George Hollingsworth, told Fox59, a local station. “I came in and told my wife, ‘I think we've got a dead body out there.’ She thought I was kidding.”
Having seen the gruesome aftermath, including Disney’s face, which was not underneath the safe, Hollingsworth said, “I would have rather seen him steal stuff and get out than die like that. What a horrible way to die.”
A lot of ordinary folks saw things quite differently. Disney’s Facebook page remains very much alive, and within days it was littered with nasty comments, cartoon memes of safes falling from the sky and bitter retorts to anyone who suggested that even a thief deserves respect and dignity in death.
One posted a picture of a pancake and suggested it was the coroner’s photo. Many posted puns about Disney’s deeds weighing heavily. “No sympathy at all,” one person wrote. “Saved taxpayers expenses. Thou shalt not steal.”
Many posts were thick with profanities, especially those leveled at the few who urged a more dignified tone. “I hate drug addicts and thieves,” wrote one. “I hate the people that sympathize them even worse.”
You might think this is a lesson about the dangers of Internet anonymity, but the commenters are easily identifiable, and their own Facebook pages reveal them as caregivers, hospital workers, auto mechanics — otherwise ordinary people from many walks of life.
An examination of the rest of Disney’s page reveals a complicated life. News reports said he had a long rap sheet, including criminal confinement and domestic violence. To use a cliche, he was not to be confused with any boy singing in a choir. He seemed like the type to avoid. However, he also reposted heartfelt songs about Jesus, and his background photo was of two little girls. News reports said he was a father.
In a rambling description of himself, he seemed uncertain what to do in life. “God is on my side and he has a plan for me,” he wrote. He was troubled, but a believing soul might have reason to consider him redeemable.
Why do people do the things they do? Psychologists and behavioral scientists have been studying that one for generations. But the question sounds as valid when directed toward criminals as when applied to people who feel it necessary to post nasty insults on a dead stranger’s Facebook page.
The latest poll on such things by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, with KRC Research, found 93 percent of Americans believe civility, or the lack of it, is a problem in today’s world, with 69 percent calling it a major problem. On average, people reported 10.6 encounters with uncivil behavior each week, and 42 percent would like some sort of civility training provided at work.
Some observers don’t see this as a problem, citing the nation’s relatively low crime rate, and its high levels of prosperity. We can be nasty and still be safe and happy, they say.
They may be missing the point.
Author Norman Cousins may have hit on it when he said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
Disney’s Facebook page illustrates the great flaw of the age of irony. Deep thoughts and observations, even respect itself, can’t seem to gain traction. Like ants at a picnic, people carry away amusing crumbs while never seeing the bigger picture, all the while robbing many of the opportunity to learn lessons or to see things as they really are.