When my kids were younger my wife and I tried to teach them that their actions had consequences. We hoped they would become adults who gave some thought to what they might do before they did it. As William James put it, “Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.” Today as I read the newspaper or watch the news on TV, I think that’s a principle that people in general have lost sight of, and many of the problems we face are a result of that loss.

The radical Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo was barbaric, savage beyond belief. Nothing—religion, politics, personal spite—could justify it. But the staff of the magazine knew that the material they were publishing was offensive to such people. They have every right to publish whatever they choose, but I wonder if they thought about the consequences. People have a right to poke a hornets’ nest with a stick, if they choose, but I would urge them to consider what might happen if they do.

I sympathize entirely with Sony over the hack which took place last fall, and I support their right to make movies on any subject they choose, but I wonder if anybody, during a pre-production meeting, raised a hand and said, “You know, the North Koreans can be pretty sensitive about their leader. Are we prepared for their reaction? Is what we’ll gain from this project worth the blowback we may experience?”

As W. Somerset Maugham said, “You can do anything in this world if you are prepared to take the consequences.” In our ever-shrinking world, we have to be aware of the hornets’ nests around us and consider the consequences if we choose to poke them with a stick. As westerners we live in what we call the 21st century. Most of us believe in an open society in which men and women of all races, nationalities and faiths should be respected and given the right to live as they see fit. We understand that, in order for us to live the way we want, we have to allow others to live as they choose.

Unfortunately, people in some other parts of the world don’t look at things that way. They see themselves as right and others, by definition, as wrong. And they believe they have the right—even the duty—to enforce their “correct” way of thinking or believing on everyone else, even to the extent of killing those who refuse to agree with them. We live in a global society and, as John B. Larson said, “Globalization is not a monolithic force but an evolving set of consequences—some good, some bad and some unintended. It is the new reality.”

In the light of this new reality I don’t suggest that we limit our own freedoms, just that we think one step further about what might happen when we do or say something. Just because we can do something, that doesn’t mean we should do it. In the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, “Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”


One Response

  1. Very well put, and true on the personal as well as the global level. Sometimes I wish I could get away with just a few things, however!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: