FIGURE skaters have a surreal quality: They are the among the most graceful of athletes, dramatizing their exotic freedom with every move.
Nancy Kerrigan, the 1992 Olympic bronze medal winner, looking toward the gold in 1994, is elegant and ethereal even among her sister athlete-artists. It is therefore all the more shocking that an unidentified man should come out of the stands at a Detroit rink and assault her, apparently with a crowbar, after she finished practicing to defend her title in the US Figure Skating Championships. (Fortunately, despite Ms. Kerrigan's inability to finish competing during the weekend in the US Figure Skating Championship, the US Olympic Committee, exercising its discretion, named her to the team.)
The same day, tennis star Monica Seles announced she was still not ready to play competitively eight months after being stabbed by a spectator at courtside in Germany.
Sociologists and psychologists are finding constant opportunities to theorize about random, senseless violence. When violence, such as drive-by shootings, happens among gang members and drug dealers, it becomes too easy to find pat explanations in terms of perpetrators, victims, and locations. The Kerrigan incident defies such answers.
On the evening of the assault, a conference sponsored by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition discussed violence in broad, deep terms that went beyond simple explanations and platitudes.
The word ``meanness'' was voiced more than once - expressing the sense that there is a new meanness in this country, a willingness to engage in, and even a taste for, random assaults against others, either by word or deed.
More police on the street, more criminals in jail, less violence on TV, fewer guns - all the restraints being proposed to control 1990s violence need to be applied, with preventive emphasis on education and jobs.
But such external approaches, while helpful, will not by themselves improve the national climate and bring inner peace to those parts of society exploding with anger. The true realists are those who recognize that the meanness will ease when there is a healing of the heart.