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.


one right angle

What’s the right angle?


What’s the right angle to take here? Is there only one?

As the shock-induced fog gives way to the reality that once again, we’re hit smack-dab in the face with the fact that evil exists on this planet, what are we to do? How are we to proceed? What’s the right angle?

Let me first be clear that I am not calling the Vegas shooter “evil.” We don’t know what was in his head or his heart or how mental illness may have played a role; we may never know. But what we do know is that innocent people were murdered. That qualifies as evil to me.

So where do we go with that?

I have quietly observed in recent years how people respond differently to different manifestations of evil — varied examples of when the innocent are killed…

… If it’s a terrorist situation, some immediately demand to call it what it is… “It’s radical Islamic terrorism! What are we going to do?! We need to stop this now!?”… Others say we need to be patient; we need to let the facts unfold. We don’t want to anger an entire people group.

… If it’s one man in his hotel room, shooting at concert goers, some immediately demand to call it what it is… “It’s a man who shouldn’t have a gun in his hands! What are we going to do?! We need to stop this now!”… Still others say we need to be patient; we need to let the facts unfold. We don’t know what laws would be effective in stopping this.

Friends, this is a tough blog. It’s tough because I am well aware that each of us have flirted with at least one of the above responses, and I never intend for any disrespect. I wrestle regularly, so many days, in regard to what is the wisest response.

The reality is we respond to evil differently. While the overwhelming majority of us abhor evil — and wish it didn’t exist on this planet — our individual responses as to how best to extinguish the evil is where the difference lies.

Therein begs the question: is there only one right angle? Is there only one right way to respond?

My sadness has extended beyond the news of Sunday as we see too many people declare only their way is wise. And then in what they most likely, sincerely believe is wisdom, they validate dismissing, mocking, and denigrating the approach of another; sometimes, they denigrate far more than the approach.

Remember the wisdom of Steven R. Covey, in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Habit #5 is this: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Noting that communication is arguably the most important skill in life, Covey states: “If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely… You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference.”

But other frames of reference exist. Other frames of reference are valid. When we ignore other people, we essentially are saying that only “my” frame of reference is valid. And when we ignore the validity of another’s frame of reference, rarely will that other person want to be and think more like us; we may be doing more harm than good.

The key then is to “use empathic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.”

Friends, I don’t believe it’s any secret with the conflict in this world today, that we need an atmosphere simply capable of positive problem solving. We need an atmosphere capable of addressing the evil that exists and capable of lessening the potential for any murder of the innocent. But as long as we demand that only one right angle exists, we pierce that atmosphere with nothing short of self-inflicting wounds.

I grieve for the families affected by what just happened in Vegas. As said Tuesday, I have trouble wrapping my heart and head around it.

I grieve, too, for how we disrespect each other so much thereafter. I can’t wrap my heart and head around that one either.

Grief is real. People respond differently. Lord help us in creating an atmosphere in which positive problem solving is simply capable.


what happened in vegas

How many must die before we finally get it?
How long before we realize our role in this toxic environment?
How many? How long?

It’s hard for me to wrap my brain and my heart around what just happened in Vegas. A man decides to take target practice on thousands of innocent targets. Those persons did nothing to him. But he was irrational — maybe “mad as hell” and “not going to take this anymore.” And so for whatever reason, he felt justified treating others in a heartless, horrific way. He justified treating others awfully.

It won’t be long before the calls for gun control and increased security measures fill up the airwaves. Sure, let’s have those conversations.

But let us not have them before we deal with the “how many” and “how long.” Let us not have any more proposals until we deal with a bigger bottom line. And, recognizing that what we’re about to wrestle with is both bold and uncomfortable, let us realize how we have contributed to this conflict. Let us recognize how we have contributed to treating others awfully.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize the deterioration of our public and personal rhetoric. We have justified calling others the worst. Allow me a mere few examples, heard in recent weeks (please excuse my vulgarity; these are direct quotes, with asterisks strategically positioned by the Intramuralist):

“Such an a**hole! … all thieves! … FU**TARD LIAR! … Racist pigs — each and every one of them! …”

Each of the above was said by a person considered to be a college-educated, pretty intelligent person. And yet, each justifies such callous derogation. And yet again, the insult list goes on.

Do we need more gun control? Maybe.

Do we need increased security measures? Maybe.

But more than any new practice or policy, we need the people of this country to quit believing they can scream insults at one another and believe nothing bad is going to happen — that no one will act irrationally and take it too far.

If we keep believing we can scream and shout and use such awful terms to describe our fellow men and women — who are created and loved by the great big God of the universe just like us — then we have had an active role in taking it too far. We have contributed to the toxic, non-God-honoring environment that too frequently exists. We have contributed to the deterioration of authentic community; we should be making it better — not worse. Let me be clear: only loving the likeminded, “like-looking” or “like-something” is making it worse.

In Vegas, current estimates are that at least 59 people died and 500+ more were injured. Details about the shooter and the crime scene are still forthcoming.

No doubt, because our horror is massive and our shock still reigns, many will call for an immediate solution so that we never feel such horror again — perhaps some new policy enactment. Still more will find whatever this shooter was associated with and declare that “those people” (whoever those people are) need to be eliminated.

The Intramuralist suggests we start with something a little more personal and uncomfortable. Let us be the change we want to see. Let us stop justifying the awful rhetoric. Let us stop screaming and unfriending and focusing on what we don’t have in common.

Yesterday, as I walked into the fitness room for my daily, morning routine, as usual, the cleaning crew also arrived bright and early. I motioned to the middle-aged man I see most Mondays. He is typically quiet and shy, never wanting to disturb me or interrupt my routine. 

I meekly asked, “Did you see the news this morning?”

The respectful gentleman, responded mostly in hand motions, acknowledging that his English fluency was minimal, but he had heard about the tragedy in Las Vegas. I then asked if he wanted to come watch the news with me in the workout room, inviting him in.

We turned on the news… and stood there… still… together. After a few minutes, he pointed to his forearm, showing me the goosebumps from his sadness and shock. I pointed to mine, too.

“Sad,” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed.

We looked at each other — and then hugged each other.

“What’s your name?” I then asked.

“Pablo,” he said.

“Nice to meet you, Pablo.”

America, we are one. Any immediate solution needs to deal with that bigger bottom line… meaning we realize more what we do have in common than what we don’t… and stop justifying treating any others awfully.

Respectfully… painfully, too…