The story of the Massachusetts teenage texter who urged her boyfriend to kill himself is one of the saddest and most disturbing I have ever heard.
And the deadly outcome reveals a disturbing development in American culture, particularly as it pertains to our ideas of love.
First, a reminder of the events that resulted in the conviction last week of 20-year-old Michelle Carter, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Conrad Roy III.
Roy told Carter of his desire to commit suicide many times and in July 2014 had filled his truck with carbon monoxide in an effort to finally end his battle with depression and anxiety. But he left the vehicle after having second thoughts.
In a text message at that crucial moment, Carter told Roy to “get back in” and “just do it babe.”
The judge in the case deemed her electronic messages “wanton and reckless conduct.”
The two teenagers met in 2012 while on family vacations in Florida. Roy had shared his struggle with depression with Carter, and rather than find help for her friend, Carter repeatedly endorsed Roy’s ideas that suicide would solve his problems.
By reminding Roy in his final moments that he had talked constantly about wanting to commit suicide – thereby providing the encouragement he needed to finally go through with it – I wonder if Carter thought she was doing the right thing. To her, perhaps, she was only affirming his choices.
Popular culture – including churches, schools, music, books, movies and news media – preaches that tolerance of different opinions and values is the highest virtue. I wonder if Carter was just employing the skills she learned from her culture to support the ideas Roy had expressed, without feeling the need to offer an argument.
Carter has been told that love is love (whatever that circular logic means); that love is tolerance; that love is supporting the lifestyle choices of others; that love is putting aside one’s own biases; that love is opening one’s mind to the possibility that they might not have all the answers; that love is not bound by a person’s experiences and pre-conceived notions.
In that sense, Carter was exhibiting everything our modern culture tells us to think: We should be supportive, no matter what we personally believe. Roy wanted to kill himself, had been talking about it forever, and Carter – under the influence of popular culture – may have felt that a real friend would endorse whatever Roy wanted.
Well, as she stood stunned by the guilty verdict, I hope the thought crossed her mind that maybe she shouldn’t have tolerated Roy’s self-destructive desires. Maybe she should have – in the words of my Silent Generation mother – knocked some sense into him by demanding that he seek help. With our tolerance-as-top-virtue cultural mandate, however, Carter may have been unable to react in a common-sense way because common sense is no longer valued.
With the tolerance mantra so dominant, it’s a miracle more people don’t act like Carter.
Fortunately, human nature is discriminating, in the best sense of that word. Despite cultural influences, most people can still discriminate between right and wrong, good and evil. We know deep down when something isn’t right. Some people ignore that “still small voice” as the Bible describes it, but many don’t and they come to the aid of folks who don’t even know they’re in need or who stubbornly don’t want help.
Love isn’t approving everything someone wants. Many times love is tough and it’s telling someone they’re on the wrong path. Whether it’s a teen like Roy, with a desire to commit suicide, or an addict’s wish to seek a short-term high through drugs or alcohol or promiscuity, friends don’t just blindly approve. They remind, clarify or instruct their friends how to make good choices because they want the best for them. They certainly don’t want their friends to succumb to death and destruction in its many forms.
Roy needed a friend in July 2014. What he got in Carter was a teen who, at worst, wished him intentional harm, or at best was a victim of her culture’s prime directive: Tolerate and approve any kind of style of life or, in this case, style of death.
So, what is love? To steal another Bible quote, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Real love, in other words, is pretty much everything Carter’s relationship with Roy wasn’t.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.