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Okay, let’s go after the weightier side of Veronica’s question: what happens when we judge that someone else (a loved one, a third neutral party, or an enemy) should change?
Yesterday’s topic was on those in our circles who aren’t making optimum choices. The two-word answer was “Who cares?” Some folks found that a troubling, but reasonable, response. Since I can’t control anyone but myself, it serves no useful purpose to fret over whether another “comes around” to share my opinion of appropriate behavior.
Today’s answer, on when I decide someone else should change, is:
Just who do I think I am?
Sounds flippant, but it’s a legitimate question. There are some jihadis who judge that I shouldn’t enjoy a Lady Gaga video. That moral police schtick seems ridiculous to me, of course, but it doesn’t change their fervor to ensure I comply with their view of right and wrong. In some cases, they’re willing to mutilate me to get their way in my life. (By the way, Ms Gaga, if you’re reading this I’d like to send you an advance copy of the book. I think you’re going to like it.)
In America we have strong opinions on both sides of the abortion divide. Some boycott clinics, and in the extreme there have been cases of violence. As I share in Powerful Peace, the murderer / self-appointed executioner Eric Rudolph did not evade police for so long just because he was an expert woodsman; he was neatly groomed and well-fed when captured…he had been supported by some others who also saw harboring this fugitive from justice as “God’s work.” By this action these outliers demonstrate that it’s possible to believe shooting or bombing abortion providers is justified by Jesus, and that Eric was authorized to take that action to affect a behavior.
So “just who do I think I am?” serves as an important check on my motive. I am in no way suggesting that there aren’t times for intervention, but that we need to examine each carefully. As you’ll also read in Powerful Peace, I am neither a pacifist nor a warmonger. I hate war. And I know war is sometimes necessary, as is violence. But intervention, either on an Asian landmass or in a smoky barroom, is famous for its unpredictable risk and horrible potential costs.
The debate is still smoking on whether the American invasion of Iraq was justified. I will not argue one way or the other, but can tell you that when asked by my kids why we were in a place that took me away for years of their young lives, I told them Saddam was like a Bad Daddy in a global neighborhood. He was hurting his family a lot behind closed doors, so the other Daddies got together and kicked open the door to stop it. (Yes, I know that is not the technically accurate operational-strategic reasoning behind that decision, but they were five years old.)
I would do the same thing in my own neighborhood, if I were convinced there were no better authority willing or able to act. I understand that my friends in the United States may have a hard time imagining this, but in many places around the world law enforcement is non-existent…or is even a part of the threat to citizens.
So yes, I would choose to risk my safety and my freedom if I believed I were the only one able to prevent the savaging of a wife or children. I would not kill a person for watching Lady Gaga, but I would kick a door to stop a Bad Daddy.
In the end, there is no single answer to the question. There are as many reasons for wanting to force behavior change as there are opinions. Seven billion, now, and counting. The moral of this story is that force is sometimes justified; its use is almost always a subjective decision; it is not in our own best interests to apply force carelessly; and we had damn well better be prepared to face whatever consequences may come.