“How could somebody do such a thing?”
We’ve all said a variation of this sentence in light of atrocity. Whether it was an act of domestic or foreign terrorism — in our own country or abroad — we look at the bloodshed and go:
How could somebody do such a thing?
It’s hard to see a reason to kill innocent people. It’s hard to look at a school, a restaurant, a movie theatre, a concert hall, a home – now filled with nothing but death and unlivable memories – and rationalize why anyone would’ve walked in to cause harm.
We’re quick to use labels: they did it because they’re evil. Because they’re crazy. Maybe we’re quick to turn to our religious beliefs for a reason: they did it because they were possessed by demons. Driven by spirits. Led by Satan.
But here’s the real reason why these people commit the terrible, horrible acts that they do. And it’s a reason we need to not only recognize in them, but recognize in ourselves:
They did what they did because they felt justified.
Are their justifications humane or even rational? God, no. And that’s not what this is about. This is about why people hurt others on such a profound and unspeakable level. So please, let me make that abundantly clear: this is, in no way, me talking about why causing pain is justifiable.
But, to them – whoever that “them” is, be it a gunman, a member of a terrorist organization, an oppressive regime, anything – what they do is justifiable. They feel they have a right to do what they did. That the ends justify the means.
To repeat: they cause pain because they feel justified in doing so.
I’m truly of the belief that no one is evil. But I do believe that people – ALL people – are capable of evil if they feel justified in what they do. If they feel their survival is at stake, if the ends justify the means, or if that they’re picking “the lesser of two evils”.
Again, please let me be abundantly clear: this is not about justifying any of the atrocities we have been seeing, not just over the last week, but over years, and years, and years. A frighteningly rich history of pain and death and torture.
This is about how people can commit evil when they feel justified.
Why am I hammering this point in? Because we are seeing a frightening reaction in response to the Paris attacks. We are seeing a growing anti-refugee sentiment – a sentiment that we’ve been seeing for a while, but has now hit critical mass. We are seeing politicians rationalize turning away refugees, refusing to help, refusing to give these huddled massed yearning to breathe free a chance at life.
In fact, you, the reader, might be one of those people who feel that way. The justifications run the gamut: we have enough problems at home, one of the refugees might be a terrorist, this is not our war….
But let’s be clear: these are justifications. Justifications for why we should look at war-torn families and go, “There’s no room in the inn.”
I’m not here to change your mind. If that’s one thing I’ve learned conversing with people about Syrian refugees, it’s that most people have no plans for changing their thinking. Most people have no plans for even critically analyzing their thinking. And to assume a little piece on HuffPo will change your mind is laughable.
But please recognize what you are doing. Recognize that ALL of humanity – not just the “evil” people – is capable of the worst of the worst, so long as they feel justified. Every single human being is capable of rationalizing doing some terrible stuff, especially in light of fear and anger.
So recognize that. Recognize that evil is not exclusive to “evil”. Recognize how quick you are to defend why we need to close borders, turn away families, deny aide. Recognize that you now have people saying that very same sentiment to you:
“How could somebody do such a thing?”
And then recognize that you are no better.