Sunday, February 12, 2012

Our Enemies' Motives

About ten years ago, a speaker came to talk at an "All Hands" meeting at my company.  She was an expert in the psychology of consumers, and she made a statement that I still remember.  The context of the quote was about the strange habits of her father (I forget now whether they were buying habits or driving habits or what).  She said:
"What you have to remember is that everyone's actions make sense to them."
It may not be 100% true all of the time, but it is close enough to true to be extremely useful.  I have often used it to re-calibrate my thoughts about my enemies, whether political, religious, or some other kind of enemy.  I meditate first on the fact that my enemy's words and actions make sense to himself, based on his worldview and assumptions.  I then try to reverse engineer (unless I already know explicitly) what those assumptions are, and how they led to the (to me) nonsensical words or actions.

It is a quite useful technique.  One effect it has is to make me realize that my enemies are not as "evil" as I may first assume.  They are often saying and doing the only things that make sense from their worldview.  And often, if they say, want, or do the wrong (from my point-of-view) things, it is with the best of intentions.

So, a few examples.  Let's say that I am arguing on the internet (as if that would ever happen) with someone who wants more government entitlements for poor people (I don't; I want to get rid of the ones we have).  It makes a huge difference to my view of this political rival whether he wants this out of a desire for huge, intrusive government, or out of a kindhearted disposition toward the poor.  Likewise, it should  make a huge difference to him whether I want to cut out the government entitlement programs because I am a hateful, old, white, privileged, Republican hater ... or because I don't feel that these entitlements are actually a good thing, even for the poor.  In my personal experience, it seems rarely to make a difference.

Another example:  I had a friend who was incensed that I engaged in civil disobedience and got arrested at an abortion clinic protest.  She could not fathom anyone doing something so intrusive, and so proclaimed me to be "evil".  I asked her to imagine being inside my heart and mind, where the ruling assumption is that abortion is the murder of a baby.  I asked her whether my actions would then make sense to her.  She refused to contemplate it, believing that to even imagine my (to her, wrong) presuppositions would involve her in evil.  But she missed a great opportunity to understand me, because she was not willing to contemplate the fact that my actions sprung naturally from my beliefs.

Another example is non-believers who rail against me and other Christians for proselytizing.  They feel that it is rude, obnoxious, and presumptuous.  And, based on their faith that there is no God, or their faith that all religions are valid, it is those things.  But, based on my belief that they will spend eternity in the fires of hell without knowing Jesus Christ as Savior, my actions make perfect sense.  How dare I not try to warn them?

Yet another example.  I had an extremely negative reaction to this "cute" little song:

In it, the songwriter threatens to "kick Jesus' ass".  But his crime in saying this is not as great as it appears at first blush.  Because he is not saying (I'm pretty certain) that he intends to kick the butt of the 3rd Person of the Trinity, because I'm pretty certain that he doesn't believe Jesus to be God.  He views Jesus as a mere man, who has made his girlfriend less amorous towards him.  And, thus, his crime is proportionately less.

As our Lord Himself said:
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
I would urge each of you to consider the words and actions of your enemies with their kindest possible interpretation, based on your best knowledge of their underlying motives and assumptions.