“You’re naughty” said the mother.
“No” said the daughter.
“Yes you are.” came the reply.
It’s hardly newsworthy. It gets repeated endless times a day in endless places. But I was struck by what the mother said. She didn’t tell her little girl that she was being naughty. But that she was naughty. I doubt it would have been appreciated if I had gone up to the couple and started a debate about semantics and about the connection between Being and Doing. But that was what I was left with. Is there a difference between Being and Doing? If I do bad things, am I a bad person? Similarly if I do good things, am I a good person? If I am a bad person, does this negate any good things I might do? And vice versa.
In health we use interesting language to describe different illnesses. I have measles. I am Bi-Polar. I have schizophrenia and I am schizophrenic. I am HIV positive. I have AIDs. At what point does an illness define us? We might ask the same question about many categories. Race. Gender. Religion. Political affiliation. One of the important parts of counselling is to bring into consciousness what is unconscious.(Much easier to say than to do!) I remember as a child laying in bed straining to see what I couldn’t see! (I was a very Postmodern child.) That’s a good analogy for psychoanalysis. Trying to see what we can’t see but know is there.
In Clint Eastwood’s film “American Sniper” Chris Kyle is an American SEAL- speciality: a sniper- who does four tours of duty in Iraq. It is his duty and his obligation to God and the Flag. He has an alter ego. An Iraqi sniper called Mustafa. Much of the film is taken up with the conflict between these two men. Both kill the enemy. Both do it dispassionately and well. Both are fighting for their home. In the end Kyle wins. He kills Mustafa with an “impossible” shot. From here he returns home to his family and struggled to live a normal civilian life. Eventually he settles down only to be murdered by another Vet whom he is mentoring.
Eastwood asks the question about morality. What is the difference between the two men? Is one “Good” the other “Bad”? If so, which one is which?
We are currently remembering the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz. The word ‘Evil” is frequently used to describe these camps and those who worked there. But we also know that the guards enjoyed concerts given by the prisoners. We may assume that many of the guards had families whom they loved. They would buy presents for their children. They would celebrate anniversaries. Yet they could kill thousands with impunity. We must assume that those soldiers who were responsible for water boarding prisoners also had families. We don’t know if Jihadi John has a wife and children. But he will have friends. People for whom he cares and who care about him. Are these friendships any less valid than those of the people he has killed? Is Wagner’s music any less rich because he was profoundly anti semitic? Are the gifts that “terrorists” give their children any less because they come from “terrorists”?
Being, not doing…