The way we treat others tells us who we are, not who they are.
That’s something my son heard often. It still slips off my tongue on occasion — and I find myself using it to challenge my own behavior far more often than I’d like to admit. That’s because it’s true, and, like many things that are true, it bites when my behavior doesn’t look very good held up to the light it gives off.
This is the first thing that comes to my mind as I think about what President George W. Bush wants us to do now: allow the torture of one human being by other human beings to gain information.
Doesn’t Bush understand that he could be the one with an electric wire inside places he doesn’t want it? Hasn’t he considered that it could, one day, be someone he loves who is tortured?
Not really: They are the foundations of why we choose to be better people, people who don’t treat others unfairly, who aren’t cruel — ever.
Because we don’t want to be treated that way — ever.
Because we don’t want those we love to be treated that way — ever.
Because we don’t want to stoop to treating anyone that way — ever.
Let me tell you why we don’t hear Bush asking these questions — and, more important, why we hesitate to ask them of ourselves or of him. It’s because we don’t like the truth they show us, because our behavior is something we want to rationalize and keep in the shadows of our awareness. See, we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t get the information first and terrorists attack us.
So . . . what? Should we attack random individuals first? I don’t think so — and I know not.
Here’s why: One thing leads to another. We all know this innately, and some of us have taken college classes in it. Logic tells us, sequential reasoning tells us, fundamental complexity theory tells us, and a number of other wordy theories tell us: If you knock down one domino and there is another standing very near by, it’s going to fall shortly thereafter, and on and on. Or, if you prefer, this analogy: Being one degree off isn’t such a big problem at the axis; it’s when you get out some distance that you begin to see the problem’s magnitude — and its drastic implications. We have to be worried about it now, because we may not be able to change it later. It’s the same argument we have heard emotionally presented in memoirs of those who didn’t realize quickly enough what was happening in pre-Nazi Germany. It’s an argument we can’t afford to ignore.
People are social. We live in a global community. That’s politically correct language for there’s a heck of a lot of us on this globe, and, if it affects one of us, it affects all of us. You torture one, you potentially torture any.
What goes around comes around. Ever heard of that? Ever experienced it to be true?
Well, then, you better start thinking of what you’ll tell your kids and grandkids if they end up in a military situation where they need protection of the Geneva Conventions and they don’t get it because today we decided we’d approve our government’s torturing someone because we were afraid of what that person might do!
John Donne’s warning resonates within my head and heart as I write this. He said not to ask for whom the bell tolls, but to know that it tolls for thee. For you, for me, for everyone of us. For all of us. Because you see we are all bound together in this global community, and whether there is a bell tolling, a phone ringing, or a text message being downloaded you can be sure that the information highway will run both ways eventually, and ultimately its message will resound for you.
Julie Rea Harper, formerly of Lawrenceville, Ill., was acquitted in July of the 1997 murder of her son, Joel Kirkpatrick. Her story was the subject of an Illinois Times cover story [Dusty Rhodes,“The end,” Aug. 10].