Being married has taught me a lot about how to make wiser decisions. Why? Because experience has demonstrated that in order to make a decision now that will be best for the both of us in the future, I have to distance myself from short-term emotion. It is from this perspective that I approach and respond to the recent violence that has traumatized our country.
The tragedy in San Bernardino, California, needlessly took the lives of 14 people and injured 21 others. The F.B.I. has ruled the incident a terrorist attack. The two individuals that perpetrated the attack-Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook-gunned down their victims with more than 100 bullets. Mr. Malik, born in America, and Ms. Farook, born in Pakistan, also happened to be Muslim. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the violence by making a statement that two of its followers executed the attack. Furthermore, on the day of the attack, Ms. Malik is reported to have made a post of Facebook where she declared her allegiance to ISIS.
Of course, short-term emotion now runs high because of the wanton use of violence and the mindless use of coercive force by two extreme individuals against other members of humanity. The fervor of the moment fuels the chorus for quick and decisive action. This is compounded by the availability bias, the psychological principle and mental shortcut where people use information that’s immediately available to make a decision. So whether we’re talking about terrorism, religious extremism, guns, or immigration, the tragedy in San Bernardino is what is most available. It comes to mind first and thus trumps all prior data we have when it comes to making an assessment about a specific issue. Add to this the fact that the human brain devotes more consideration to negative experiences than to positives ones. What you’re left with is a troubling dynamic where one instance of recent evil can amount to much more than a past filled with ample good.
Just like in marriage, having a big fight stirs up our emotions and compels us to view our partner in a not-so-positive light. We begin to look back and taint the past with pollution from the recent heartbreak. We may even disregard what they’ve done in whole relationship and allow the disheartening present to paint a future based on our angst. In marriage, the obvious danger here is that we throw away the whole person because of one temporal act. In society, the obvious danger is that we throw away an entire group of people who share a common trait because of a few bad apples. Accordingly, the question ought to ask ourselves in life is–This decision feels right right now, but will I feel right living with the consequences of the decision weeks, months, or years from now?
In regard to the San Bernardino attack, short-term emotion tells us that we must do something, and do something now. But I dare to ask– Is do something right now really better than first distancing ourselves from the moment?
An example of short-term emotional dominance comes from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who recently called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims who wish to enter the United States. The given reason for this restriction is that such individuals have a deep-seated disdain for America and therefore pose a legitimate terror threat. The availability bias tells us that “those people” did it, therefore “those people” can’t be let inside our borders. Yet, when we distance ourselves from the moment, it becomes clear that condemning all members of a group because of the sins of two is erroneous and flawed.
According to the 2013 American Community Survey, there were 41.3 million immigrants in the United States as of July 2013. 1.8 million of those immigrants came from the Middle East and about 340,000 came from Pakistan. From 2010 to 2013, the number of people immigrating from the Middle East and Pakistan to the United States was about 250,000. From 2010 to 2013, there have been less than five Muslims that have committed acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. So, even if we boldly assumed that every single immigrant from the Middle East and Pakistan is Muslim (they’re not), the percentage committing acts of terror is less than one-hundredth of 1%. That hypothetical doesn’t even factor in that most terrorists committing acts of terror on American soil are not Muslim. Now you may say to yourself, “That date range doesn’t even include 9/11!” Yes, you’re right. But according to the FBI, if you look at all the terrorists who attacked on U.S. soil from 1980 until 2005, more than 90% were not Muslims.
Essentially, banning all Muslims from entering the country because of the disgraceful acts of two of them is like banning all women from entering your house because your wife and her female friend mistook some of your prized books as coasters and ruined them. Ultimately, as time moves on and you look back and remember how you felt right now, will you be able to live with the consequences of your decision? The thing with history is that you are only doomed to repeat it if you ignore it. Just consider that the Chinese were excluded in the 1800s (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), the Jews had strict immigration limits placed on them during the 1900s, and the internment of the Japanese in the 1940s. We look back now and say, “That was despicable.” Indeed this is true, but at the time it may have felt like the right thing to do in the heat of the moment.
A successful marriage is built upon two people who want to be together. A successful nation is built upon groups of people who want to live amongst one another and work together. Freedom and liberty are what make America American. Bigotry and xenophobia are what will make us just like the rest. Group condemnation and xenophobia may satisfy the emotion of the moment but will cost us in the long term. To separate ourselves from the fervor amount means that we seek wisdom and that we value the future more than the present.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal is father, husband, preacher, CEO, physician, author, Mensan, podcast host, agent of empowerment, and a catalyst for positive change. He writes in order to cultivate novel ways of solution-focused thinking and to add a range of alternative ideas. He provides many valuable resources on his website, CHESadaphal.com.