Perhaps some of the most difficult tasks in life are the ones which seem the simplest. Simplest but are usually the most important.
The two that I’d like to talk about here have impacted my life significantly in all aspects, from my military career to business, to life in general.
I’m speaking of the biblical ideas of “walking a mile in another man’s shoes” and “taking the high road.”
The first seems absurdly simple and goes along with many other life lessons, such as “Don’t jump to conclusions” or “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
We say this to people all the time and, while I have tried to live this way my entire life, being empathetic and trying to see things from another perspective, for me, was most important during my time in Special Forces.
What most people don’t truly understand about Special Forces is that we are guerilla fighters, soldiers who give the government plausible deniability for involvement in the affairs of nation-building or overthrowing governments or groups we don’t particularly like.
In order to do this, we are selected for our unique and keen ability to adapt and assimilate to any culture we are in. Say you are invited to a meeting with an Afghan warlord. If you show the bottoms of your feet when you sit or refuse his tea and eat bread with the wrong hand, for instance, you will be a mission failure.
As my mission profile and the current state of the world took me to the Middle East and Africa on many occasions, I spent quite a bit of time eating, living and breathing the Muslim culture. And in the time I spent assimilating into their world, I can honestly say that I met some of the best human beings – and some of the worst.
Green Berets take the idea of “walking a mile in another man’s shoes” quite literally. In the Middle East, we would grow our beards long and bushy like the village elders, wear turbans and “dishdashes” to fit in, try as hard as we could to speak the local dialect, and even use the “Turkish toilets” (holes in the ground).
We did it to survive and keep the ability to sneak within enemy ranks undetected, and it paid off much more than it didn’t.
The skill set that comes along with rapid assimilation, empathy, and cultural sensitivity doesn’t fade quickly, and I imagine will be with me until the day I die. A great Special Forces saying to segue us into the next part of this discussion is that “perception is reality,” and is very applicable in what is currently going on.
Quite recently in Garland, Texas, there was a shooting at an event that is, in my mind, about as far down the low road as one could imagine. Most people’s viewpoints on the events are split by their perception of what happened (and what media outlet they get it from), but I’d like to drill down a bit deeper than you’ll get from most of the for-profit news bytes out there.
The shooting took place at a competition for drawings of the prophet Mohammed, of the Islamic faith. If you don’t understand the significance of this, I’ll just say that Muslims believe a depiction of Mohammed is utter blasphemy, and this is coming from a religious culture who doesn’t take blasphemy as lightly as we – who constantly taking the Lord’s name in vain even on public television – do.
Depending on what side of the fence you reside, you can see this event and the subsequent shootings in several ways. And of course, the way you perceive it is most likely what you believe and what your reality is.
The event itself was heralded as a representation of the First Amendment, the right to freedom of speech.
Understood. The fact that an organization would invoke that right to desecrate and blaspheme another’s religion is quite disgusting to me. And to do so in retaliation for disgraceful Muslims who do the same by burning American flags or Bibles does not make it any better.
Every child is taught in school (including Sunday school) the righteousness of “taking the high road” or “turning the other cheek,” and this, my friends, is not how you do that.
The group who organized the event was doing so in such blissful ignorance of the reality of what they did that I cannot believe they didn’t fully expect this outcome. It reminds me of a child who pokes and taunts his little sister while saying, “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you”, and then runs to the parent crying when he gets smacked in the face for being a jerk.
It is within their First Amendment rights to do so, but that does not make it the right thing to do – especially if you pretend to do so in the name of Christianity, a faith which preaches a loving God and “turn the other cheek” mentality, or in honor of America, the melting pot of the world.
Of the same token, the Muslims – or Jihadis, or whatever you want to call them – are also not an accurate representation of their faith. Islam is also a faith which teaches non-violence and peace in most walks of its followers. But just as we Christians have sects who handle poisonous snakes and molest little boys, Muslims have their share of crazy people who claim Jihad and preach violence.
A small number of morons and jerks don’t represent the entire faith on either spectrum.
At the end of the day, I’m glad that a few morons on both sides have been wiped off the face of the earth, and hopefully we all learned something from their stupidity.
Don’t try to out-crazy a crazy person. An eye for an eye is about as far from the high road as you can get, and any person who uses religion to preach hate or violence is as hypocritical as they can possibly be.
Robert Patrick Lewis was a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A), is an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war” and the host of “The Green Beret MBA” and “Center Mass with Rob and Silent J” programs on Vets on Media.