A story was told to me once about a man who was riding on a public subway with his two young sons. The children were out of control: running up and down the train, throwing tantrums, and disturbing all of the other passengers. This went on for a while, but the father did little to try to control the kids. Eventually, one woman got so annoyed with the man and his children that she verbally attacked him, calling him irresponsible and a bad parent. The man looked at the woman regretfully and said, “I’m sorry, their mother was just killed and they’re not sure how to take the news.” The woman immediately regretted getting so upset at the children, and could understand their unruliness.
This story illustrated to me why it is wrong to judge a situation at first glance. Before assumptions can be made, each side of the story must be considered. It is easy to get upset at someone for doing something wrong, but no one harms others without a reason. That reason may be just or unjust depending on circumstances; however, only a minimal percentage of the human population consists of sociopaths who are unable to comprehend ethical behavior. The rest of us must recognize that wrongdoing is a very relative idea.
When someone is found doing wrong, the first thought most people have is punishment. Our emotions and impulses often get the best of us if we are wronged in some way; however, impulsive behavior most often leads to poor judgment. When a thief is caught, he is often placed in prison without another thought. Isn’t it worth finding out the man’s motive? Perhaps there is something that can be done to prevent future incidents. Unfortunately, most think that people who break the law are unredeemable.
The truth is, humans never act without motive. There is no such thing as a good person or a bad person; everyone has virtuous as well as regretful qualities. How “good” a person is depends on how often he or she engages in selfless behavior, and vice-versa. Consider this the next time you feel slighted or wronged. Take a walk in your enemies’ shoes and you might be surprised by what you think or feel.
Putting Emotion on Hold
Of course, putting your emotions to the side is not the easiest thing to do. Some people can do this fairly automatically, while others see it as impossible to ignore their passions. Also, the severity of the crime can make it difficult to see beyond one’s own situation. For example, if someone steals a pack of gum from you, you could potentially understand the motivation, however unreasonable it may be. “They probably thought a pack of gum was not too big a deal.” However, in a more severe instance such as burglary or murder, the criminal’s motive is probably unclear or imperceptible due to emotion’s blinding effect.
This is not to say that one should always forgive and forget. It is, under no circumstances, justifiable to kill another person; however, it is often worthwhile to find out the criminal’s motive. If a person kills as a member of a gang or terrorist organization, for instance, putting the person in jail or executing him is inadequate since other members of the same group could continue in his footsteps. When people do unbelievable things, ask questions and seek out answers. This could prevent a lot of pain and hardship in the future.