I was having dinner with some well-traveled friends the other night, and we started a discussion about how the vast majority of people we’ve met in our trips throughout the world have been decent and kind to us. We hear so much about violence and wrong-doing that it’s easy to forget how we are usually treated. I’ve also found that when I am considerate toward others they are far more likely to be considerate toward me.
Islam continues to get a bad name because a relatively small minority of adherents brutally kill people in the name of their religion. Internet sources tell me there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, yet the number who actually harm others is a small fraction of the total. My experience in visiting and living among Muslims is that most value the same things we value. I literally owe my life to the goodwill of countless people who worked with me during my assignments in difficult places.
I have often wondered why we are so easily led astray by people who I will charitably refer to as the lunatic fringe, and I would offer up the following possible reasons:
- Passion – We may like to think we are rational beings, but emotion and passion play a big role in our decision making. Emotional people feed our appetite for passion, which I believe has both physiological and psychological roots. I’m not sure what else could explain the popularity of people whose only qualification for celebrity or political power is the volume and venom that comes out of their mouths.
- Blame – It’s seductive to believe that some evil or misguided group of people is the source of all our problems. It would be humorous to list all the different groups that have been persecuted throughout history if the human costs were not so tragic. Often, the victims of earlier persecution become the persecutors when they achieve the power or position to do so.
- Misinformation – Many who would seek to capture our support or sustain our apathy know that most of us do not really check their facts. Information presented as truth is too often misinformation or argument cloaked as fact. The Information Age allows us to see vast amounts of information without providing much guidance about its accuracy or relevance. The volume of stuff on the Internet can make it difficult to judge or even find decision-making information.
- Ignorance – Modern humanity probably knows more than any generation that preceded us; but even the smartest, most educated people are essentially ignorant about entire fields of knowledge. Our lack of knowledge is routinely exploited by those seeking power and fortune.
- Circumstance – Bad things sometimes happen regardless of what anyone does or does not do. We die, lose money, and live through countless trials because in many cases we have no choice. Taking advantage of negative circumstances by promising something better is a proven route to power.
The list of ways a vocal minority can lead us to do harmful things is probably much longer than my five observations. I think the antidote, however, is relatively short and simple. Kindness, consideration, service, knowledge, and general goodwill go a long way toward frustrating the ambitions of the lunatic fringe. Refusing to hate, even when there may be more than sufficient justification to do so, is perhaps our best protection.