Sunday, December 31, 2006

You Don't Know Anyone But Yourself Well

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.
- Harper Lee, writer (1926- )

And that is nearly impossible.

Take the example of the recently departed Saddam Hussein. At one time he was a saviour to his people. Several times during his reign and before that when he was Vice President of Iraq and the man who made the tough decisions for the president, he prevented the country from falling into sectarian violence and civil (actually religious) war.

To the day he died he was worshipped by Sunni Muslims who believed that he kept his country on track, preventing it from being overtaken by Shiites from his own country and Iran. And he prevented a revolution among the Kurds, which would have split the country.

The fact that he built 100 palaces and many monuments to his honour, and killed perhaps hundreds of thousands of his people in the course of preventing revolution or civil war were simply necessary acts to show the power that he held over people, according to supporters.

Saddam died believing that he was a martyr who would be welcomed into heaven by God (and provided with the requisite 72 virgins shortly thereafter, no doubt).

The most powerful nation in the world, militarily, plus several of its allies, have been unable to stop the rising tide of killing (about 62 per day, average) in Iraq. Nothing works, but Saddam managed to prevent it himself.

We in western countries easily think of Saddam as a vicious tyrant who murdered multitudes of his people. Yet many world leaders fear that the Middle East may now become a fire pit of sectarian war. The world's greatest nations cannot do together what Saddam managed himself.

The fact is that we don't know what would have been necessary to prevent war in Iraq. Saddam did. We don't know what went on in his head. But we didn't like it, whatever it was. Now he is dead and war in Iraq may be inevitable. The death toll, if it happens, could be millions and could involve several other countries. As Israel (a country with nuclear weapons) is a common enemy, that war could turn nuclear.

I doubt that it is possible to fully put ourselves into the point of view of another person. Do you really know what your spouse, your daughter, your mother or your best friend thinks about many different subjects? Since you don't have the background, belief set and experiences of any of these people, you really can't know them as well as you would like to think you can.

In conclusion, this line of thinking leads us to the belief that we can never fully understand any other person than ourselves.

What can we do with a conclusion like that?

Allow everyone some slack. Be tolerant. Be compassionate. There are always circumstances we know nothing about in every life other than our own. Maybe even the bad guys are on the right track and we don't know it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to clear away the clouds of uncertainty.
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1 comment:

Deb S. said...

Excellent post. Happy New Year, Bill!