It was my intention to spend today’s Sabbath School talking about Pentecost, and talking about the gifts that God had provided on that day–including the Ten Commandments and the law of the covenant. As happens sometimes, though, the discussion had a different turn that ended up not being so different, and one that was an opportunity both for the kids to appreciate the proper approach to law and authority as well as an opportunity for me to better understand the development of the criminal mind. Most of the time, when we see the criminal mind, it is in full flower. What is fascinating, though, is seeing the development of the criminal mind, how it is that people fail to learn basic life lessons about coping with reality and instead develop patterns of behavior that led them into disaster.
There is a lot of writing that takes place about a supposed school to prison pipeline as if it is a problem within the schools. And, to be sure, there are a lot of aspects of our educational system that are to be blamed. This is not one of them, though. In general, school seeks to provide us with basic lessons about life that are applicable for the rest of one’s life, and those who fail to learn such lessons repeatedly, despite mounting urgency, and who dedicate themselves to resistance to compliance and obedience to the rules, select themselves for lives filled with problems with authorities, including imprisonment, issues with DHS with their parenting styles, chronic joblessness, and the like. While most of us like to be left alone–I know I do–most of us also understand that what allows us to be left alone the best is to make things easier on those people who are bothering us so that they are satisfied and leave us alone, whatever our actual feelings about their slowness to understand what we are trying to explain or their unwillingness to comply with our wishes and desires.
What I had the opportunity to listen to today was the account of someone who was hostile to therapists, teachers, and other adult authority figures but who was nonetheless open and honest about her frustrations, and very loud about them it should be admitted. Her desire to be left alone clashed with the fact that the adults around are not and will never be interested in leaving her alone, not without extracting some sort of compliance from her. Her repeated insistence that she wasn’t doing anything was something she failed to understand was a problem, since all authorities want us to do some things and not to do other things, and so doing nothing is itself making us a problem to those who are in charge over us in various institutions. And when we are problems for the people who are in authority over us, they will be a problem to us, pretty inevitably.
There is an element of this that is cause and effect, and an element that includes basic tactical skills about how to approach life, as well as basic skills in empathy. To the extent that we can understand the sorts of pressures that our pastors, our bosses, our policemen, and so on are under, we can understand why it is that they behave towards us the way that they do. We do not have to like the way the systems of institutions work, but if we want to live happy and successful lives we at least need to understand how to work within such institutions in a profitable manner. Those who cannot do so because they are so concerned about their own selfish interests and immediate desires that they cannot refrain from creating trouble for themselves or control their emotional response to what frustrates and irritates them are people who will bring trouble to themselves frequently and predictably.
There was a sense of melancholy I had in knowing that the child I was listening to was already well-advanced in a course of action that will inevitably lead to great trouble for her. Even knowing what it is that people wanted from her, she was unwilling to refrain from loudly and forcibly expressing her own personal desires that other people simply were not going to act on and refusing to act on what they insisted that she do. She expressed not only an unwillingness to follow the rules, whether they were expressed as general principles, but sought to find ways of breaking the rules without being caught and having to deal with punishment, expressed a lack of acceptance that life may bring with it a lot of suffering–which seems pretty inevitable–and a belief that self-destruction would itself be escaping from judgment. None of these are the ways in which our thinking should be turned and focused, but they are all aspects of the criminal mind being formed as a way of approaching the world.
To the extent that the world encourages us to follow our own star and listen to our own desires and view them as our guiding principle and law, the world around us is seeking to encourage the development of a criminal class. To the extent that the outside world encourages us to neglect being concerned about the impact of our behavior on those around us, kneecaps our understanding of basic reciprocity and justice while focusing our attention our own frustrations and grievances, the world outside us further encourages the development of a selfish and sociopathic criminal class that is predisposed to act in hostility to law and authority and to be parasitic towards the property and well-being of others to the detriment of the health of society as a whole. Such a tendency cannot end well, and any happiness or success we have in life requires that we fight against tendencies that cut us off from being able to imaginatively place ourselves in the position of other people so that we may better understand their motives and act with shrewdness and wisdom even in situations that bother and frustrate us to a high degree. Such tendencies must be learned young, it appears, or they may very well never be learned at all.
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