We tend to judge another’s intentions and motivations by our own intentions and motivations. Unfortunately, this is not a valid way to function in this world.
Right now, in the middle East the ISIS fanatics are murdering hundreds and thousands of Christians and other Muslims all in the name of religion. We see this on television news and on print media. I saw today a photograph of a baby, maybe a little over a year old, being encouraged by his father who was ISIS to kick the severed head of one of the “enemies” of ISIS. How can we comprehend the thinking of this man, given our own up bringing and teachings?
It isn’t only the thinking of the ISIS fanatics and others like them around the world that we, as Americans, have trouble comprehending. Of trying to judge them by the tenements of our own conscience of what is right and what is wrong and how one should behave.
The famous journalist, Walter Lippman, stated long ago, not everyone’s conscience is filled with virtuous truths or principles. For some, their scruples resonate with less than impeccable verities and act accordingly.
I think it is important that we realize that not everyone has motives that are even comprehensible to our thinking.
For almost two decades, I kept thinking in my mind that there must be some “magic” words that would touch my son Patrick’s heart, and make him see that his behavior would only lead to more pain for himself, his family and his victims. I kept thinking that if I just worked hard enough at finding this phrase or line of reasoning that he would “get it” and turn around his thinking and his behaviors.
This is not logical thinking on my part, but “magical” thinking. It is believing in “magic” that is going to work against some one else’s motives and beliefs and behaviors. Unfortunately, many times our politicians seem to display this same “magical thinking” when they are dealing with the thinking and behaviors of others that we might label “psychopathic” such as the ISIS.
We can lock up or execute people like Patrick to protect the public from their thinking and behaviors, but we can not change their beliefs, their thinking or instill in them a conscience that we find acceptable. Our court and parole systems seem to think that a person like Patrick can somehow be “reformed” and made to think and behave in a legal and moral manner. A country can go to war with another country or faction and shoot and bomb them, or put them in prison, but there is no way to force them to change their thinking.
In 1609 King James of England/Scotland and ruler of the Celtic and Catholic Northern Ireland sent protestant low-land Scots into Northern Ireland, displacing the natives off the land they had occupied for eons. The Scots went there because the conditions in Scotland were harsh, and they prospered in the lands in Northern Ireland where they had settled and displaced the natives. The natives hated the “legal” invaders, and the Scots looked down upon the natives as less than human. There was almost no intermarriage between the two groups even though they lived side by side for generations. Centuries later, the IRA was still at war with the protestants. Not because of religion, really, but because the two groups had different religious convictions, it was viewed by many as a “religious war” which was continuing after over four hundred years! In fact, that war between the two groups of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland was a continuation of the “racial” war fomented by King James in 1609.
I knew a married Irish couple here in the US, a physician and his nurse wife, who had moved to the US because one was Catholic and one Protestant, it was not safe for them to continue to live in Ireland because of the hatred between the two factions…the descendants of the Native Irish and the descendants of the Scots interlopers.
While conscience is to some extent learned as we are taught by our parents and our culture what is right and wrong behavior and thinking, there is also much evidence now that the tendency to violence is greatly influenced by genetics. The tendency of an individual to be a risk-taker, or to be more easily violent is definitely genetically influenced.
For those of us who don’t share the beliefs or the violent tendencies of either an individual or a group of individuals like the IRA or the ISIS, we can not comprehend the thinking or the behavior of those individuals. On an individual level, we may love someone who is violent or an offender in other ways, such as drug additions or thefts, it may be incredibly difficult to come to the conclusion that there is no “magic” way to come to some kind of understanding with this group or this person.
I read in the news every day about the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people in the Middle East fleeing from the ISIS with nothing but the clothing on their backs, and I weep for these people because they are the innocent victims of the beliefs and actions of a group of people that are violent in their beliefs and are willing to act on those violent beliefs, maybe even believing that what they are doing is “right” (at least in their own eyes.)
I believe that Patrick knows that society and the police believe it is wrong for him to have killed Jessica, and to have robbed our friends and others, but I also believe that he does not care what society or we believe is right or wrong. I think that he believes that he is somehow entitled to do whatever he wants to do, no matter whom it hurts. In fact, I think that he enjoys breaking the rules, just for the sake of “getting away with it” like some sort of game.
But I also realize now that there is no way I can change his beliefs, or instill a conscience within his mind that conforms to my Christian beliefs or the beliefs of US society in general.
The old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is absolutely correct. We can try to reason with people who believe differently than we do, but we cannot make them accept the thinking that our beliefs are superior to theirs and for them to accept those beliefs.
As we enter the November elections here in the US next Tuesday, the political ads have been on television 24/7 trying to influence the thinking of the different parties and the populations about various issues and various candidates. Each candidate is trying to show his beliefs to the public that he hopes will agree with his stated position. Candidates are not so much trying to change the beliefs of the public but to reach those in the public that share their beliefs and get those people to vote for them.
In our own lives, we must realize that changing the opinions of others to match with what we believe is a difficult, if not impossible, task. We must realize that there is no “magic bullet” that we can verbally fire into their heads to root out the thinking and behaviors that we believe are wrong. We must learn to accept that there are groups and individuals whose beliefs are 180 degrees off from our own and that logic, talking, etc is not going to change their thinking or behaviors. So we must avoid confrontation of those people, and like the refugees fleeing from the ISIS’s violence, or the Irish couple leaving Ireland, we must leave the area, or in my case, work to keep Patrick in prison as long as possible.