Riots in Afghyanistan! Dozens of Afghanistans killed in the riots, many more hurt, wwo young American soldiers killed ... and why? Because someone burned a book. My first thought was, “Give me a break! Are we back in the 15th Century? Books are books, paper printed in ink recording some message.” Why kill because someone disagrees with you? Why riot because you dislike someone else’s opinion? Why international conflict over differing understandings about religion?
Oh yes, intolerance. That’s the driving factor that is turning a disagreement around an opinion into this level of a problem. And where is this intolerance coming from? People confusing their mental maps with the territory. Someone somewhere is thinking that their “thoughts” about something is the ultimate reality. Silly people.
But, of course, we all have done it. And that’s because we all came through the “concrete thinking stage” in our cognitive development as children. This describes one of the stages of cognitive (thinking) development from Developmental Psychology and one that you can see any day of the week in a 5 to 8 year old child.
They know what they know! If they think it, that’s what it is! Period. End of story. “If you don’t see it my way, you are wrong, bad, of the devil, going to hell, I hate you, leave me alone!”
This is the structure of intolerance:
“My view of reality is right; everybody else’s that differs with mine is wrong, bad, malicious, hateful, sinful.” And if your view is like that, then it needs to be stopped, destroyed, killed. And if you are promoting something that needs to be stopped, destroyed, and killed, then you need to be stopped, destroyed, and killed.
So what can we do. Afghan President Karzai called for calm after the incident at Bagram Air Base where copies of the Koran were found burned. The Government of Afghanistan have tried to stop the rioting and today shot a 12-year old boy. And yet for the past 3 days, the call for calm has not quelled the protests that have boiled over in Afghanistan. Moslem leaders have also called for calm at Friday prayers. And while this is good and admirable, it is also symptomatic. That is, it is not dealing with the cause, it is only dealing with a resulting symptom.
What is the cause?
The cause is the kind of thinking and mental framing that sees something one does not like, approve, and believe in as something that gives me the right to violently hurt and punish another person.
The source of the problem is the state of intolerance and the cure for intolerance is tolerance— to recognize, accept, and even appreciate that people differ in their understandings and beliefs. The problem is not difference itself, but our attitude andresponse to such differences:
Ø Do others have the right to differ from us?
Ø Do others have the right to be wrong?
Ø Do I have the right or the power to enforce others to see things my way?
Ø Will I accept differences in understandings and beliefs?
Ø Will I give others the right and the power to believe according to their conscience?
Ø Will I release my need to force others to see things and do things my way?
Ø Will I allow others to do whatever they want to do with books, even burn them?
The point is this— the problem isn’t the burning of any written materials or books. Apologizing for that, as Presidents Obama and Karzai did misunderstands the real problem and assumes that “burning a book” is the problem. It is not. The problem is intolerance which arises from people not getting beyond the childish thinking of confusing a mental map with the territory. The problem is trying to force others to conform to our beliefs.
Meaning and performance— that’s the analysis we use in Neuro-Semantics to understand human experiences. As long as the meanings of “my way or the highway,” “I have the right to force you to see and do things my way and if you don’t to punish you or kill you,” then the performance of rioting, killing, etc. will occur. It’s a frame game: with that frame (of mind, of meaning) you set the rules for that game— the Game of Intolerance.
How do we change the Game? By changing the frame!
So let’s start with ourselves! Let’s change our own frames about trying to control the beliefs, understandings, and behaviors of others. These things are outside our area of control. Let’s set the frame of respect that allows, accepts, and tolerates the right and power of others to act according to their beliefs as long as it does not impose upon others. With that as a foundation, we can then begin discovery conversations to seek first to understand the other’s views and seek to influence them without the need to control them. And in the process, all of us will probably change and becoming more humanly kind and understanding.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
Everyone as best as he can!