Tag Archives: The Gazette

The Planned Parenthood Shooter

Yesterday Robert Dear from North Carolina killed police officer Garrett Swasey, a former athlete turned police officer, near the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. Though the two were within yards of one another, they saw the world very, very differently. At the same moment, only two miles away in the comfort of my office, I was also experiencing a different world.

Today I expect to start hearing projections as to why this gunner targeted Planned Parenthood, and why he chose to shoot and ultimately kill and injure people in our community.

As my wife and I were falling asleep last night, we spoke at length about the way people see situations so differently. I see this contrast in perceptions regularly, even among the people of our church. Different people see situations and others differently based on their own values, experiences, and educations that filter their perceptions.

In addition, we all have, to varying degrees, cognitive distortions, which are thought patterns that cause irrational or exaggerated conclusions. Whoever this shooter was, I’m sure we’ll learn more about his cognitive distortions that caused him to justify, in his own mind, the tragedy he created yesterday. And with each one, we’ll shake our heads wondering how he could possibly think that way.

I teach a class on Sunday nights on Renewing Your Mind: How To Change Your Brain. A portion of that class deals with our seeing things realistically and then responding responsibly. Therapists that emphasize how behaviors are influenced by our thinking (Cognitive Behavioral and Reality Therapists) often use a list of cognitive distortions to help clients identify their own cognitive distortions so they can respond to life more rationally.

Two week ago I wrote a blog entitled “What? That’s Not What Happened!” listing a few of these cognitive distortions.

As Gayle and I were talking last night, we reviewed how our awareness of cognitive distortions can help all of us think through events and choose our responses with greater wisdom. In the context of yesterday’s craziness on the first day of this Christmas season, I thought a more thorough review might be helpful for all of us (This is my adaptation of the checklist by David Burns from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy)

  1. Polarized thinking: When we look at things in absolute — all or nothing categories, we are typically thinking too simplistically. Things are seldom exclusively good or bad, black or white, right or wrong. Instead, there are exceptions, explanations, and nuances that cause most people and situations to fall into a gray area between the extremes.
  2. Overgeneralization: When we overgeneralize, we use words like always, never, everyone, best, and worst. Generalizations are seldom, if ever, true. There is typically at least one exception. 
  3. Discounting the positives: When we  discount the positive accomplishments or qualities of ourselves or others, and focus only on the negative, we or they feel insignificant and powerless.
  4. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading – we assume that we know what other people are feeling or thinking. When we do this, we think we know the motivations of others. Since we rarely understand our own motivations, to presume to know the motivations of another is a significant projection that is seldom accurate; (B) Fortune Telling – we arbitrarily predict the outcome of events or future development in the lives of others.
  5. Magnification or Minimization: We blow things way out of proportion or we shrink their significance, which distorts their value.
  6. Emotional Reasoning: We draw conclusions based on how we feel, assuming our feelings reflect some reality.
  7. Should Statements: We judge others using words like should, shouldn’t, must, and ought. “Have to” is a similar offender. These are sometimes necessary for personal application, and we may sparingly and cautiously use them in reference to those within our chain-of-command, but they can reveal a major distortion of personal significance when used randomly toward others.
  8. Labeling: We draw comfort by simplistically seeing people and situations in categories, boxes, silos, classifications, or stereotypes. This leads to sexism, racism, bigotry, and other generalizations that do not take into account the uniqueness of individuals or specific situations.
  9. Personalization: We assume that what people are doing or saying is about or because of us, when in fact it might not have anything to do with us.
  10. Blame: Our greatest potential for choice is between some event and our response to it. We choose our responses. They are not forced upon us, which is why we are responsible for how we choose to respond. So when we blame, we are giving more power over our lives to others, and denying our own abilities.

It’s too early to know why the Planned Parenthood shooter did what he did. But now we have an opportunity to comfort those who have been hurt by his actions, pray for healing in the lives of those involved, and do everything we can to learn from this horrific tragedy how to respond to actions and views we disagree with in constructive, godly ways.

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Should Sheriff Maketa Resign?

Due Process Matters

 

Sheriff Terry Maketa, our previously well respected Sheriff of El Paso County, has been asked to resign by several public figures due to accusations of misusing his position. Though the sheriff and all three of the employees of the sheriff’s department accused of intimate relations with the sheriff have denied the allegations, some believe he should go ahead and resign.

If people do not resign, they are able to use the resources of the institution they are serving to ensure due process. In response to allegations, our sheriff emphasizes that a “fair and impartial investigation based on facts and law” will take place and he is insisting that everyone involved should “respect the legal process.”

He’s right. We as a civilization have worked for hundreds of years now to refine our process of determining truth, guilt, and consequences. We decided to start with the presupposition that people are innocent until proven guilty, that they have the right to defend themselves, and that their accusers have to present factual evidence of relevant wrongdoing. We continually work to refine an intricate process of determining which facts are relevant to any particular case, and who is permitted to decide if the allegations against someone are, in fact, applicable. Then, we try to thoughtfully determine the appropriate consequences we as a society should impose on those who violate the law. All of us should respect the processes we’ve established, and the continued evolution of these processes to improve them.

The press distorts this process, and the internet permanently records the distortion.

We instituted and defended the establishment of a free press believing it would protect us. The downside of a free press is that it is largely an unsupervised, unaccountable, maverick press. Because we hope their self-policing efforts are more effective than we would trust in the hands of any other institution, we in the general population read their papers and magazines, and watch or listen to their broadcasts. They influence us to the point that we wrongly believe we know enough about a subject to have an informed opinion. However, many of us who have had first hand knowledge of a situation and then contrast the facts we know with news accounts, too often, find the press inept.

Sheriff Maketa is saying, “let the process work.” The district attorney needs time to do his job. Federal officials and the county need time to establish facts. Only then, after professional investigations and legal reflection, consequences, if necessary, can be decided by appropriate authorities. Should the Sheriff resign, both he and his office would lose full participation and representation in the process.

In the midst of the media frenzy, it’s difficult to have long range judgment. But I think it’s important for all of us that Sheriff Maketa stay in office. I know from first hand experience that there will only be a fair hearing of the facts, and the facts will only have meaning, if he stays in office. Otherwise, the press and the web will spread every rumor and permanently record them, thus creating a permanent rumor-based record that will define the sheriff for the rest of his life, regardless of the facts, and without his having any due process or opportunity for response.

Let me give you a couple of examples of those who quit too soon, and those who kept going.

Judas and Peter both betrayed Jesus. Judas repented, but removed himself from any future representation by killing himself, effectively building a memorial to his betrayal in the minds of every generation since. Peter, in contrast, kept going. He also repented, but only 50 days after his betrayal of Christ, he began publicly preaching. He also wrote letters that are now in the Bible, and he became one of the best known apostles. He is now deeply revered and his betrayal has become only a small portion of his story, not the highlight. St. Peter’s Basilica is an enduring monument to his personal resurrection.

A more contemporary example might be Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon resigned, moved and California and died after Watergate, establishing the Watergate scandal as the only significant item in his life in most people’s minds. In contrast, Clinton’s scandal led to impeachment and disbarment. His offense was clearly an abuse of authority by a person in a position of trust and was followed by an official attempt to cover up, deceive the public and lie to investigators. Yet, we do not think of his violations as significant. Why? Because he kept going. He is a highly respected leader of the Democratic party and, polls show, if he could run again for president he would likely win. Bill Clinton’s scandal has diminished from the defining moment of his life to a chapter, then a page, and now a paragraph. In time, the Clinton scandal will, in effect, become a sentence.

Some of our most important American ideals are being threatened by people reading press reports and making judgments. I do not know anything about the  innocence or guilt regarding our sheriff, but if he resigns, there will be a resounding presumption of guilt. No doubt, once the facts are established, we all support accountability and justice. We have a system for that, but if we are not careful, we all might unintentionally participate in the dismantling of that system by returning to, in effect, lynch mobs. Even if the accused is guilty, shouldn’t someone protect them from the crowd until the facts are established?

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