“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
So said Gandhi. But I don’t think he expressed it quite right. I think it’s more accurate that the missing link is the difference between what we do and what we profess to believe. Blatant inconsistency, not mere inaction, is our true Achilles’ heel.
I watched a movie the other night that portrayed waterboarding and other forms of torture by American troops. It made my skin crawl.
But then it struck me as odd that I’m okay with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed roughly 250,000 people in a split second, with incalculable long-term effects. How does the moral equation somehow change when I’m looking someone in the eyes, versus pushing a red button from afar?
I pondered all the ways I’m inconsistent in my life, how easily I justify wrongdoing.
I profess my belief that next to God, my family is the most important thing in my life. So why do I treat my family in ways I wouldn’t dream of treating complete strangers? Why is it easy for me to be impatient and harsh with my children in the privacy of my home when I’m loathe to reveal my bad side to the world?
I remembered a study performed by researchers J.M. Darley and C.D. Batson, whose subjects were students at Princeton Theological Seminar.
As each subject arrived, he was told that he was to give a talk that would be recorded in another building. Along the way to the place for the talk, the subject encountered a “victim” slumped in a doorway. The researchers wanted to know under what conditions would a subject would stop to help the victim.
Half of the subjects were assigned to talk on the Good Samaritan Parable; the others were assigned a different topic. Some of the subjects were told they were late and should hurry; some were told they had just enough time to get to the recording room; and some were told they would arrive early.
They found that 63 percent of subjects that were in no hurry stopped to help, 45 percent of those in a moderate hurry stopped, and 10 percent of those that were in a great hurry stopped.
It made no difference whether the students were assigned to talk on the Good Samaritan Parable, nor did it matter what their religious outlook was.
Funny how proud I am to proclaim that I’m a Christian, and yet how far I fall short of actually being one.
This quote from Yann Martel’s book, The Life of Pi, was like a slap in the face the first time I read it:
“There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless.
“These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, ‘Business as usual.’
“But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.
“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out.
“The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”
Oh, what a world this would be if we all spent less energy professing and defending our beliefs with words and spent more energy living them through action.