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Nov 012014



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.

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  12 Responses to “Incomprehensible thinking of others”

  1. Article up

  2. Here’s the article about the man getting his toddler to kick the severed head of an ISIS “enemy”

  3. Joyce, this article is so timely – I’ve had computer issues, lately, so this was a terrific article that opens up a door to some much-needed discussion about “acceptance,” IMHO.

    I cannot, under any circumstances, fathom why some people believe the things that they do, and behave the way that they do. Whether it’s terrorists or the exspaths, I cannot reconcile their behaviors and beliefs in my mind – I literally cannot wrap my head around these issues. So, because I don’t wish to enter into the domain of Cognitive Dissonance, I have learned how to “accept” that there will always, and forever, be people who are way off the scales of what is acceptable to me, personally.

    Now, the “acceptance” was a very challenging place for me to get to. And, each new experience and exposure to various things requires a new approach to reach “acceptance.” As I continue practicing different coping techniques and the counseling work that I’m engaged in, the time that I spend fighting “acceptance” is becoming shorter and shorter. It’s still time-consuming, but I’m not spending a lifetime attempting to change or renegotiate a better set of facts about any given circumstance.

    This is a freedom ………….. a liberation, actually ……….. that I cannot adequately describe. For someone like myself who was raised in the lies and deceptions of family dysfunction, “acceptance” is one of The Most liberating choices that I’ve been able to make, as I’ve been in recovery. It relieves me of ALL responsibility for the actions, choices, and behaviors of others, whether they are “bad” from genetics, environment, or both. I cannot “fix” these people. And, I do not live in their cold, dark, and empty Universe, so I cannot even imagine how they think. I do not have the power or control to Teach Them A Lesson that would (in my previous mind) cause them to FEEL remorse or compassion, and I am therefore not responsible for what they do.

    This is a terrific topic, Joyce!!!

  4. You are so right, Truthy, ACCEPTANCE is one of the three legs on which recovery stands. The other two are ALTRUISM and GRATITUDE. Like may not be what we wish it was, but by accepting it, we can be grateful for what we DO have….and having an altruistic component in helping those we CAN help, who are INTERESTED in our help, gives us a good feeling as our brains are programmed to feel good when we have done good for someone else…BUT (isn’t there always a “but”?) we must realize when our altruism is NOT HELPFUL. Just like the Unbreakable Horse or dangerous bull…we can’t help those animals and we can’t help people who are violent or manipulative and we must not waste our altruism trying to ‘fix” them.

  5. Joyce,
    I just went to the link you provided. I wish I hadn’t. :( it’s so depressing.

    There are some books and articles which say that we can “control” the psychopaths by offering them rewards instead of punishment. While it’s true that psychopathic offenders do NOT respond to threats of punishment, I also don’t agree that rewards are sufficient motivation for them. They just don’t think the way we do. Their idea of what is rewarding is not like ours. Even if you were to offer them all the excitement they can handle, that wouldn’t be enough because the psychopath MUST be oppositional. They MUST thwart anyone who has authority or morality.

    About the only way I can think of to make the psychopath do the right thing is to convince them that it’s actually the wrong thing to do.

    Honestly, I don’t even think that most of the ISIS fighters even believe in or care about religion. For them, religion is just an excuse for violence. Anyone can co-opt any belief and become violent about it. Even Christianity, which is very obviously about peace and love, has been used as an excuse for violence – both inside families and outside.

    I’ve always known that these kinds of people existed, I just never understood how common place they were. It’s because they so often wear masks.

    • Sky, so very good to “see” you, and I also read the frustration about the conflicting information that’s out there.

      Here’s the bottom line:
      Q: Was I able to alter the behaviors of any psychopath that I ever knew?
      A: No. Not even by turning the tables, making “right” into “wrong,” or by any other means

      I have to go with what I’ve seen with my own eyes – the facts, and only the facts. I cannot make a call using my “feelings” or emotions because I have never lived within “normal” parameters of emotional responses or reactions, as per my childhood traumas and later abuses. SO……….in order for me to make the best decision, I have to acknowledge my feelings (yes, I’m sad, fearful, angry, whatever), but I then place them on another counter and examine the facts. Facts, not beliefs, wishes, desires, or promises………

      When it boils down to the very, very core of this type of hatred and dysfunction, I will NEVER be able to “understand” it because it’s not the Universe in which I live. I feel deep, deep pity for the people who are so immersed in their hatred that they commit such atrocities – I seriously do. But, just like a rabid dog, they cannot be cured, not by ANY miracle, epiphany, pill, surgery, or decontamination. They are lost and gone.

    • Hi Truthy, good to see you too. :)
      I remember the time when I had to take a long drive with my ex, the uber-psychopath. I knew that he would take the opportunity to make me crazy by complaining and screaming in the car. This was in the hopes of causing me to have an accident while driving. I didn’t see any way of avoiding the trip so I brought along some homeopathic, anti-stress mints.

      Of course I knew that the psychopath wouldn’t eat them, but I put them in a candy dish on the console and began munching on them in the car. Being a psychopath, he is extremely envious and can’t bear to see me eat without taking my food. Within a few moments, he started to gobble them down. Now, I know that most people don’t believe that homeopathics work. And I’m not sure what to believe either, but after a few mouthfuls, the psychopath asked me, “What are those?”
      “They’re mints.” I replied.
      “Are they supposed to do anything?” he asked.
      “Yeah, they’re homeopathic and they’re supposed to make you less stressed. Why? Do you feel different?”
      “Yeah,” he said, “I feel less stressed and I don’t like it.”
      But the trip was calm and uneventful.

      Another example was when I wanted him to quit smoking and he refused. He had smoked since he was 12 and he smoked inside the house just to make it stink. Then one day I was looking for him all over town because he wasn’t answering his pager. I found a phone booth with a pile of cigarette butts on the ground. Something made me think they were his. But really, there was no way for me to know.

      Anyway, when he got home I told him, “I know the phone booth where you make your phone calls. You are so easy to track because you leave your cigarette butts all over the ground.”

      The next day he quit smoking.

      So this is the kind of thing I meant when I mention trying to control the spaths. You have to leave them an open window so they’ll jump. Then you tell them not to.

  6. Skylar, I “hear” the sadness and frustration in your post that “there is nothing we can do to change them”…I fully agree with you and I don’t even think that we can comprehend fully how they think.

    I read an article about the ISIS and an ISIS soldier was at the “slave auction” where you could BUY a captured girl for $100 bucks or so. He was there to “get his share” of the captured slave girls and he wanted a pretty one and to “look at her teeth” JUST LIKE HE WOULD HAVE A HORSE…

    It is also true that in political wars, and I think the Middle East, that the poor who have no chance of rising up will enlist out of desperate poverty as a way to “get their share” of the loot plus young men seek adventure and “glory” in war…

    And yes, religion is only a SHAM reason for this war…it is like all wars, fought for GREED by the leaders and those who have no conscience.

    On a smaller level if someone hit me in the nose I would probably fight back, but I would never think about going to someone else’s house, even if I disliked them, and hit them in the nose. I would never tell a non Christian to “convert or die” and some Muslims wouldn’t either, but there is a group of people both political and religious who would say “do it my way or die”—-The Ukraine, several places in Africa, the Philipines

  7. What a timely article Joyce. I understand what everyone is saying about this. I spent long enough, trying to run interference or doing what I could as damage control for the spath. I’m proud to say I am a member of the group that will do that no longer.

    A dear friend of mine explained it to me once, that on judgment day, I do not have to atone for the sins of others. All I will bear responsibility for, when I stand before my maker- is what I have done. It was as if a weight had been lifted. It also changed my perspective, shifting it more into focus of what I should be concerned with.

    I began to pray for these people as if they were stricken with an illness for which there was no cure. All things considered, they are just that- stricken with an illness of which there is no cure. I have made my peace with things I have done and left the rest to the higher powers that be. I know that I cannot change them and have no idea why I ever thought I could.

  8. Phoenix you are so right, we are NOT responsible for the sins of others, but I think if we allow them, help them, to continue those sins and cover them up, we ARE responsible for doing that. Jesus and St. Paul both tell us in no uncertain terms to NOT ASSOCIATE with such people and Proverbs tells us that “evil companions corrupt good morals” so I think there is plenty of advice to stay away from these people. The problem seems to be that we want to try to FIX them. LOL And lilke Truthy said, they are like “rabid dogs” there IS NO CURE.

    It is getting that through our heads that is the tough part, those of us who have been raised in dysfunctional homes where dysfunctional is the “Norm” and is expected. Where we are taught that family members must always be tolerated no matter what they do. Even helped to cover up their bad deeds.

    While the golden rule says treat each person and you would like them to treat you, MY “silver rule” says DO NOT ALLOW OTHERS TO TREAT YOU WORSE THAN YOU TREAT THEM. So the “silver rule” is the flip side of the golden rule.

    Praying for our enemies and those that abuse us which is taught by Jesus and the Apostles is I think not for THEIR benefit so much as for OURS so that we can get the bitterness out of our own hearts for them. I find that praying for my enemies has helped ME and whether it has helped them I know not. (except in Patrick’s case I know it hasn’t because he continues to have a REPROBATE mind that even the love of God can not penetrate because HE (Patrick) likes how he is (the rabid dog analogy)

    This has been a good discussion guys!

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