When there’s unexpected tragedy in the world, I always know what to expect from myself. My first instinct is to call someone I love and say, “Are you OK? Are you safe?”
It’s a very instinctive and irrational desire to reach out to try to protect someone who couldn’t possibly have been threatened by a shooting in Las Vegas today. It’s just so instinctive that it takes time for my conscious rational brain to kick in and remind me, “The people you love aren’t in danger, so you can relax.”
The many centuries of human history seem to have wired us in this way. When there is a danger — to ourselves or others — the first thing we’re programmed to do is think of the people we love and to think about how to protect them.
When something terrible happens, who do you think of first? Who do you want to tell about news in your life? Who do you want to protect? Your complicated answers to those questions will tell you who you really love — because your instincts tell you the truth.
When these terrible things happen, our instinct tells us — very strongly — that it’s our job to fix the situation. We first try to immediately protect those people we love. Then when it’s clear they’re safe this time, something else unconsciously kicks in. Because we recognize this as a danger to someone we love, an instinctive part of us says we have to do something now to fix it — or at least insist someone else fix it.
Every time something terrible happens — such as the as-yet inexplicable murders in Las Vegas — millions of people around the country experience their own version of this instinct. As they work their way through the realization that their loved ones are safe — this time — the other voice starts instinctively shouting.
“Somebody has to make sure this can’t happen again! Do something about it! Now!”
As the more rational parts of the person’s brain starts taking over, his biases start leading his thoughts. Whatever he already thought made sense is suddenly urgently important.
A person who already dislikes guns will insistently latch onto this idea as the thing which would have prevented the current tragedy. Even if you can show him that he is in more danger — statistically speaking — when he just drives a car or takes a shower, it doesn’t matter to him. He has latched onto that idea. He can’t even hear the downsides of eliminating guns, because his mind is locked onto the instinctive belief that guns are the real problem.
A person who already has a dislike of foreigners — maybe someone who’s predisposed not to trust Muslims or Hispanics, for instance — might latch onto this idea as the key to making the world safe. Even if you could show him in economic and statistical terms that we’re all better off with immigration, it doesn’t matter to him. He’s latched onto the notion that we need a wall to keep “bad people” out. He isn’t interested in the downsides of cutting immigration — and he doesn’t care about the moral case — because he thinks building a magical wall would keep everyone safe.
Everyone has a different pattern, but the first part is the “who you care about” and the second part is the policy bias. In a time of crisis, those things combine to make you scream for some politician to fix things.
But there’s bad news when it comes to the evil which people do to one another. Human beings will always find reasons to kill each other. Always.
We mourn some murders and glorify others as heroic. There will never be a shortage of ways to kill or a shortage of people who feel justified in killing.
People will kill with guns and knives and fertilizer bombs and military drones. People of all sorts will kill, whether they’re white or black or Muslim or Hispanic or Nazis. They might live next door to us. They might live on the other side of the world. They can be anywhere.
This truth is scary for those who have no desire to kill at the moment, so we will constantly argue about how to stop the killing. Depending on your social or political bias, you might want to ban certain weapons or deal harshly with lesser crimes. You might want to “lock them up and throw away the key” when people commit small crimes. You might even want to target demographic groups.
These debates will always rage, but the real issue is the hatred that’s built into the human heart. Some call that hatred “original sin.” Whatever it is, though, there’s something in us that can turn anyone who’s pushed in certain ways into a killer.
This evil is a problem of the heart which will never be cured through legislation or force.
No matter what you do — or what you goad politicians into doing — your solutions won’t work. You can’t force people to be good. You can’t force people to change their hearts. You can’t force people to love one another.
So when something terrible happens, protect your loved ones from the immediate danger if you can, but remember that pushing politicians to save you won’t help.
If the world is going to change, it’s going to happen because individuals make the decision to stop hating and to start loving. You can’t make that decision for anybody but yourself. You can’t make that change for anybody but yourself.
The solution starts with genuine love in your own heart, not with forcing others to change. Work on changing yourself instead.
In the meantime, reach out to the people you love in times of danger. They need you and they need your love. Let them know you choose to love them — because genuine love is always a choice.