Many people make New Year’s resolutions. Often these include vows to eat less and exercise more. Rather than these healthful but self-centered goals, may I suggest a different set of resolutions:
Use compassion for those who deserve it.
After we have punished the criminal, expressed compassion for all his victims, and done our best to relieve their suffering, then we can feel compassion for the criminal. But till then, feeling compassion for both criminal and victim leads only to more criminals and more victims – who need more compassion. So we feel good about ourselves, while making the world a worse place.
If you doubt this, ask Dru Sjodin. The 22-year-old University of North Dakota student disappeared, and her blood was found in the car of a man who recently had been released from prison. Why a two-time rapist-kidnapper was set free was unclear. The search for the body was unsuccessful. The suspect has no incentive to reveal where he dumped it – authorities couldn’t offer not to impose the death penalty, because North Dakota has none. Dru’s body was found the following spring, when the snow melted. She had been tied up, beaten, raped, strangled, smothered, and thrown in a ravine. The murderer was sentenced to death under federal law. This case illustrates that “better late than never” may be true, but it has definite drawbacks.
Or ask Roxanne Hayes, a Florida woman who was murdered by Lawrence Singleton. Singleton was sentenced to death but died before the sentence was carried out. Years earlier, he had raped 15-year-old Californian Mary Vincent, then chopped off both her hands and left her to bleed to death − but she survived. Singleton was sentenced to 14 years and paroled after serving only seven. This appeared to be a merciful punishment for a man guilty of attempted murder, mayhem, forcible rape of a minor, sodomy, and forced oral copulation. It was less than merciful for Mary Vincent, who lived in hiding for fear Singleton would return to finish the job. And it was less than merciful for Roxanne Hayes, who didn’t live at all. This case illustrates that compassion is like money − if we squander it on worthless trash, we will have none left for essentials.
Or ask Samantha Runnion. The five-year-old was kidnapped while playing in her front yard. Her molestation and murder were national news. The murderer had previously been charged with abusing two little girls, but was acquitted when his lawyer claimed the girls were “coached.” The lawyer listed that case as a “success” on his website. We might use other words. This time the murderer was found guilty and sentenced to death − too late for Samantha. But he will probably die of old age. A judge put California’s death penalty on indefinite hold, because lethal injection − the same way we put beloved dogs and cats to sleep − is claimed to be “terribly painful.” As painful as a five-year-old being kidnapped, sexually abused, then crushed to death? But the judge didn’t consider this question. He decided that his job was to assure the comfort of murderers, not the safety of children This case illustrates that if we don’t instruct our employees very clearly on what their job is, they will make up their own job to suit themselves.
Define reality as what exists in the real world, not on paper.
Lawyers, academics, and bureaucrats deal with paper constantly, so they come to believe that paper is reality. Many believed that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would protect us against incoming missiles armed with nuclear, biologic, or chemical warheads – and fired by homicidal fanatics.
In an ordinary person, a belief in the protective powers of paper would be seen as a delusion requiring psychiatric care. In lawyers, academics, and bureaucrats, it is seen as normal, while those who want to build a missile defense are seen as alarmists. But who has the better grip on reality?
Let us emulate detectives who uncover evidence, not lawyers and judges who cover it up again. Let us emulate scientists who reach conclusions after doing experiments, not paper-shufflers who twist the numbers into conforming to their biases. We should have fewer people in government who believe that paper represents ultimate reality.
If paper represented reality, treaties would protect us from missiles, Enron would be a thriving business, and Bernard Madoff would be a trustworthy custodian of our money.
Avoid saying “tragedy” when we really mean crime.
An earthquake is a tragedy. Of course 9/11 was tragic for the victims and their families, but murder is a sin and a crime. Mass murder is a horrible crime. If the attack is planned abroad and carried out by foreigners, it is an act of war. Calling it a “tragedy” removes blame and reduces the event to the status of a natural disaster. Then we believe that punishment of the guilty, and prevention of a recurrence, are no longer our duty.
Avoid saying “mistake” when we really mean crime.
A mistake is confusing “who” and “whom.” A mistake is what gets a criminal caught, not his crime. Murder, rape, and robbery are often called “mistakes” by defense lawyers and other apologists for evil. Calling serious crimes “mistakes” trivializes them into moral insignificance. And if we can’t see things from a moral perspective, what good are we?
Avoid the vacuous expression, “Give peace a chance.”
A chance to do what? A chance for Saddam to torture more children in front of their parents, or to use more poison gas on ethnic minorities? A chance for Al Qaeda to crash more airliners into office towers? A chance for Iranian fanatics to acquire nuclear weapons, while screaming “Death to America?”
A “peace” in which only one side renounces violence is called surrender. Real peace can come only when both sides agree to stop the violence, or one side destroys the other’s ability to cause violence. There is no reason to think that hate-filled fanatics will agree to stop the violence. That leaves the second option.
Reality isn’t always pretty, but not facing it only makes matters worse. As with cancer, the treatment may be difficult or even painful, but sitting and waiting for things to get better is a dangerous and potentially fatal blunder.
If “war is not the answer,” then what is the question? Apparently it is, “How can I feel self-righteous while accomplishing absolutely nothing?” The question surely is not, “How did we stop aggressive dictators and bloodthirsty fanatics in the past?”
Avoid the absurd expression, “Violence never settles anything.”
Is Europe still under the heel of Nazis? Is Asia still ruled by Japanese warlords? No? Why not? Is it because Britain followed Gandhi’s advice and surrendered rather than fight? Is it because Jews followed his advice and committed suicide to gain Hitler’s sympathy? (What sympathy?) Is it because Americans followed the isolationists’ advice and concerned themselves with internal problems?
No, it’s because freedom-loving people fought and died to rid the world of these scourges. It’s because rational people saw the vast difference between the British, who could be persuaded to leave India by non-violent means, and the Nazis, who had to be destroyed by the most violent means available.
And what results from pacifism? Self-righteous “human-rights” activists insist that we “dialogue,” while those who hate us prepare even worse attacks. This would enable vicious sociopaths to win, while we waste precious time – and allow civilization to go down the toilet.
The Bible tells us not to stand by idly while our neighbor’s life is at risk. (Leviticus 19:16). This advice is both moral and practical. If we ignore it, we may find our own lives at risk, while our neighbors follow our example and stand by idly.
Eating less and exercising more are healthful goals. But carrying out these resolutions will help us to recognize evil. And if we can see it clearly, we can fight it effectively. That would make for a really healthy and happy New Year – except for criminals and terrorists, of course.
A prior version of this column appeared last year. The Lord willing, other versions will appear in future years, until people listen. Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.