the intellectual lure

We want to know.

From the Undersheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Kevin McMahill [note: emphasis mine]:

“To date, we have run down well more than a thousand leads in this investigation. While some of it has helped create a better profile into the madness of this suspect, we do not still have a clear motive or reason why

We all want answers. We have looked at everything — literally — to include the suspect’s personal life, any political affiliation, his social behaviors, economic situation…

We’re also aware, of course, that ISIS has repeatedly claimed responsibility, which today, I can tell you, that we have no known nexus to.

In the past, terror attacks or mass murder incidents, motive was made very clear — very clear in most of those cases by a note that was left, by a social media post, by a telephone call that was made, by investigators mining computer data. Today, in our investigation, we don’t have any of that uncovered. I wish we did. We will and are continuing to investigate with great tenacity, and hope to arrive at an answer.”

In other words, we don’t know. We don’t know why the suspect in last week’s shooting did what he did.

We don’t know motive. We don’t know the reason why.

And we aren’t very good at not knowing.

Isn’t that true?

Over the course of recent years, I have observed so many of us struggle with what we don’t know… when we don’t understand why someone would do something we wouldn’t do… when we don’t understand why someone would say something we wouldn’t say…

(Let’s go deeper…)

… when we don’t know why someone would vote for one for whom we wouldn’t vote… when we don’t know why someone would support a cause we wouldn’t support…

We struggle when we don’t know… when we don’t understand another. I think that struggle is very real.

Allow me to insert a parental metaphor here, especially being the parent of one son with special needs among my three. There are so many times as these boys have become men that I had zero clue why they did what they did or said what they said. I did not know.

But as a parent — admittedly making many missteps along the way — I soon learned that it was impossible to always know. It was impossible to always discern the clear motive or reason for their behavior. And after being hit over the head with a few hundred, seemingly divine two-by-fours, I surrendered the right to know. Funny, the more willing I was to surrender my need to know, the more I learned, the more I grew, and the more I was free to love and become a better parent.

The key is resisting the intellectual lure to assign motive in the absence of clarity. I deeply believe that intellect too often gets in the way; it is not (repeat, not) the equivalent of wisdom.

We crave knowing, and therefore, we assume we always can. So in the absence of clarity, we often assign motive or reason when someone does something we wouldn’t do, says something we wouldn’t say, votes how we wouldn’t vote, or supports what we wouldn’t support. In place of humble investigation, patience in the process, and/or prayerful revelation, we assign motive.

As we then fall into that troubling trap, believing we are omniscient enough to assign said motive or reason, we miss out on potential learning. Sometimes we even use the exercise to judge, unfriend, or to love another less.

I admit: not knowing is hard. And when that not knowing comes in conjunction, for example, with the manifestation of evil witnessed last week on the Las Vegas Strip, we search with increased tenacity to understand the why.

We search. We pray. Hopefully, we will one day know.

But sometimes we have to be ok with not.