Jesan Sorrells of Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)

Some of the things that I am about to express today may offend you.

Some of the things that I am about to express may not apply to you.

But either way, they are statements, ideas, and conclusions, that have not been discussed enough lately in the discourse that has been permeating our long, national narrative for at least the last twenty-five years, but they are present most recently in our national non-discourse, since the death of a man in St. Louis last year.

Or maybe it was the death of a young boy in Florida.

The deaths are only the latest example of human beings engaged in the ultimate conflict—violence—with each other, as a way to resolve issues.

These deaths are troubling, but not for the obvious reasons that drive social media communications, meme generations, outraged postings, declaratory blog posts, media declarations, and the fake outrage of television pundits, entertainment celebrities, and social justice advocates.

These deaths are troubling because, instead of drawing the American (and global) population closer together, they (and their immediate, reactionary aftermath) seem to only drive people further apart, into separate camps, meme-ing and glowering at each other with outrageous social media declarations about “unfriending” people who disagree.

Their deaths are troubling because the underlying issue beneath of all of these deaths is never truly talked about, examined, or dissected.

Maybe because that issue appears to “obvious,” to “easy” to deal with, or perhaps, the issue appears to be so unsophisticated to our contemporary minds, that it overwhelms us with the depth of its simplicity.

But, much like Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer is often the most accurate one.

But not the easiest one to solve.

[Opinion] The Dark Heart of Man

***

 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr SolzhenitsynThe Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

Discussion about the depth, breadth, and nature of the problem of human evil—and changing the hearts and minds of the people who have a propensity to do evil rather than to do good—gets less and less sweeping media coverage of any kind these days.

Collectively, we have decided in the United States (with much of the rest of the world not far behind)—that people (both individually and at scale) will just be perfect (or can at least be coerced into being good) if enough laws are passed, if enough people are socially sanctioned and made uncomfortable about holding and expressing uncomfortable opinions, and if the public responds quickly enough to get outsiders to straighten up.

We believe the Rousseauian myth (though he was not the first to express it) that man is driven to commit evil because of inequalities in society (a society, of course built by imperfect men) that manifest through the disparate gossamer of poverty, racism, sexism, or whatever phobia there is of the moment.

Culturally, we accept that the root of human evil is not based in a soul fallen through the curse of Original Sin (I mean…who wants to talk about sin?), but instead we believe that evil lies somewhere buried in deep in all of the social structures humans have invented, built and maintained over time.

We genuinely believe that if we just change the structures, either gradually or immediately, that justice will be meted out, that death will come only to the guilty, and that peace and freedom without consequence will reign.

And that would be a fine, worthy set of beliefs to pursue, if they weren’t proven catastrophically wrong, time, and time again.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton in a meaningless duel over politics, honor, and expedience.

The Hutus and the Tutsis engaged in genocidal mass slaughter with machetes in Rwanda in the 1990’s.

All over the world today, children wake up and are abused, beaten, and even worse, on their way to adulthoods, where they will continue the patterns of senseless abuse with their children.

A few days ago, a man shot police officers doing their job.

A few days before that, a man was shot in a traffic stop.

A few weeks before that, a man shot 50 people in a nightclub who weren’t bothering anybody.

A few months before that, a child was shot in a neighborhood scuffle.

And for years upon years, the crime rate in major cities in America has been ticking ever so slowly downward, even as the heinousness of the crimes that created public ripples through immediate reporting shock us even more with their depravity.

A few days ago, a college student got drunk and raped another college student.

A few years ago, cocaine, and then crack addiction were tearing up cities with murders, thefts, and all other manner of depravity.

And now heroin is doing the same thing, in “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” rural areas populated by the poor, the abused, and the neglected.

A few decades ago, some cops pulled a man out of a car in LA and beat him, seemingly without provocation—and no one put down the camera to stop them.

A few decades ago, violent riots swept through cities, following an endless spate of assassinations that no government entity could prevent.

In the 1930’s a government put the pressure to its own citizens and ultimately drove many of them into gas chambers, putting the horrifyingly apt title of The Final Solution to a process that had previously had no designation, other than the term pogrom, going back into the Middle Ages.

The examples overwhelm because at the bottom, they are about the depravity and evil of the human heart, which is desperately wicked, desperately ego-driven and selfish, and desperately desirous to do whatever may come to mind unto others without consequence, rather than having anything done unto them.

The typical, rule/sanction based bulwarks of religion, government, and even social sanctioning are gradually losing their ability to sway people away from committing individual acts of evil. Paradoxically, they are gradually swinging toward passively supporting, more and more, collectively larger acts of systemic institutional evil, because, as the Founding Fathers noted in the Declaration of Independence “…all experience has shown, that mankind is more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

And as the rule/sanction moorings fall away, one by one, the only thing that is left between people are relationships; the ties that bind, as it were. And even those are tenuous, at best, without something else buttressing them.

Do black lives matter?

Do white lives matter?

Do cop lives matter?

Do civilian lives matter?

Do children’s lives matter?

Do women’s lives matter?

Do men’s lives matter?

Do rich people’s lives matter?

Do poor people’s lives matter?

Does changing the human heart matter?

Does it start with you?

Peace Begins with You

***

And now we are at the crux of the current manifestation of the age-old matter in our digital age.

No hashtag ever changed a thing.

In person change has always been fraught with difficulty, misunderstandings, miscommunications, negative escalations, and conflicts. When people talk with each other face-to-face there is always the opportunity for confusion and conflict, particularly if the conversation in question is questioning deeply held stories around values, worldviews, and frames.

It takes a lot of emotional quickening to escalate from a conversation to a confrontation to a conflict to a fistfight to a war. There are many discrete steps in face-to-face communication that social norming has established, developed, and refined for thousands of years to limit such escalation. But, as is always the case, human beings’ tools for communication get better, friction and misunderstanding increases, even as the speed of communication increases, and conflicts flare up.

From carrier pigeons to riders on horseback to the telephone to mail by airplane to emails and now Twitter, there have always been people who would rather fight to hold onto the status quo in their hearts, than take a risk and explore a different way. As the speed of our tools has increased how fast we get a message and then react to it, (going from days or weeks to micro-seconds) there hasn’t been a commensurate increase in the heart of rational contemplation.

Thus we get to social media communication.

The collective social media population reacts within seconds to an offense that culminates publicly only after brewing deeply in a human heart for years, and then uses the immediacy of social communication tools to psychologically manipulate people on the other end of the message into reacting rather than thinking.

And there’s really only two reactions available: fight or flight.

Not a measured argument.

Not a reasonable discourse.

Not knowledge or growth.

They are looking for either a respondent’s heels or their fangs.

In the case of the Internet, and the communication tools we have built on top of it, we have exchanged immediacy for escalation, and have confused personal passion driven by our reactions for legitimacy of an assertion.

Ease of access to digital tools also allows our solutions to deeply heart-based problems to be focused on the tawdry and the spectacle—which is short term—instead of the deliberative and the reasonable—which is long-term.

No hashtag ever saved a child.

Our desire to comment, burn, and react on the basis of spectacle, indicates that the type of communication we desire is that which will be friction free, painless, non-relationally based communication, when we want it, how we want it, that allows us to do what we want, when we want, how we want.

But this is an inherently selfish and vain position, a reaction from deep in the human heart to strike immediately at those who hurt us. A reaction that culminates in employing the phraseology of escape (“Please “unfriend” me if you disagree with me”) rather than the language of understanding, compassion, and recognition that we are all fallen.

We are all in need of justice with mercy, compassion with understanding, and reconciliation without strings.

No hashtag ever made a traffic stop less dangerous, or more dangerous.

Online communication will always be fraught with difficulty and no amount of changing a name policy, policing speech we don’t like, or building walls and doors into our platforms (or our physical lives), is going to prevent than difficulty.

The solution to all of this, as with most things, lies in changing the motivations, the drives, and the worrying tendencies deep in the dark heart of man. But we cannot begin this change under our own power.

My long, troubled, questioning journey through physics, philosophy, politics, and even religion, has convinced me that the solution to the all of these motivations, drives, and worrying tendencies, endlessly repeated from one news cycle to another, lies first in individually establishing a heart-felt, meaningful, personal relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer, reading the Bible, and joining with others in community of all races, genders, orientations, and beliefs.

But many people (some of whom are my friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms) are unwilling to believe that the solution to all of this depravity is this simple. Some of you (if you’ve made it this far) will probably be vehemently disagreeing with me. Some of you will be confusing the ineffective, rule/sanction based bulwark of religion, with meaningful relationship with other people in Christ.

I welcome your feedback.

I am friends (and nominal associates) with all manner of races, sexual orientations, political positions, and religious/non-religious people on many social platforms. I do not run from disagreement on this conclusion, and I welcome questioning.

Because I am talking about relationships.

Real ones.

When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, not a rule based relationship, you don’t go it a nightclub and shoot people. No matter how egregious their life choices may seem to you in the natural.

When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you pray for those who have wronged you racially, ethnically, and socially, and you let those prayers change your mindsets, behaviors and attitudes before you put on your policing uniform.

When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you let that relationship determine when to disobey (civilly) those in authority, when to obey (in civilly) those in authority, and when to let God sort it out.

When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you are not frightened, worried, or consumed by human injustice perpetrated by human actors; instead you are emboldened to act with courage in the face of all of that, knowing that Jesus walks before you—so who can be against you?

When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you are able to forgive your enemies before they do unto you, without rancor, without judgment, and without fear of what you will lose.

I am convinced, now more than ever, that the greatest impact we will ever have on each other—the greatest ability that we will ever display to others to show them how to “destroy a piece of [their] own hearts” is by walking out the love, compassion, and nonviolent response exemplified in the life, actions, and words of Jesus Christ, to people whose opinions, positions, and even behavior and actions, we find to be scary, repulsive, revolting, and even violating human decency.

Our role is not to deal out death (whether that be rhetorical death via a social media post or literal death via a weapon) in judgement, for who can know all ends of the human heart?

Who can predict how walking out the impact of a relationship that goes above all human knowledge will affect that other person who disagrees—even unto death?

No hashtag ever generated a relationship with Christ in another human being.

***

The solutions are simple, but not easy.

Teach your children to use kind words with each other and role model not looking at the phone.

Go and talk to your neighbor who disagrees with you politically, economically, racially, scientifically, emotionally, and find out why they disagree through actively listening to them, rather than making a judgment.

Take the inner journey toward Jesus Christ, with or without a Bible believing church behind you. This journey—if you take it as seriously as you take protesting, demonstrating, and inspirational posting—will change your heart fundamentally, if you let it. It is no surprise that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a practicing Reverend first, and then a nonviolent demonstrator, and then a public hero.

No matter what your title, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your desires, or your needs, begin with changing the world, by changing yourself—your own dark heart—first.

Avoid dealing out metaphorical (or even literal) death in judgment, and instead lead with compassion.

For justice without mercy is merely dressed up revenge.

And mercy without justice is merely watered down passivity.

We are all called to be active, not passive, players in this life, regardless of our title, our position in life, our past history, or our current situation.

I am not preaching human love. I am not advocating for human understanding. I am not writing for more of the same thing that doesn’t work. I am not telling you who to vote for. I am not telling you what church to go to. I am not telling you what pundit’s video to reTweet, or what meme to post.

I am focused, laser-like, on uplifting you toward examining yourself first and then looking at others. I am focused laser-like on destroying pieces of my own heart that are capable of evil. I am focused laser-like on attaining and facilitating the justice that Jesus Christ would have me attain and facilitate, rather than engaging over and over again with my own anger, disappointment, and disgust.

And the diamond through which I am shining that laser-like focus is my real relationship with Jesus Christ.

The solutions cannot be all wrapped up neatly at the end of a 2700-word + essay, because the problems are buried deep in the human heart.

They’ve been going on since man disobeyed God in the garden of Eden, and then, Cain slew Abel and his blood cried out from the ground for justice.

They’ve been going on since Abraham bargained with God for the preservation of Sodom and Gomorrah.

They’ve been going on since the Romans burned Christians as pyres to light Nero’s palace.

They’ve been going on since the Catholic Church killed Jews and other non-believers, in the Inquisition.

They’ve been going on since one part of our country decided that they would rather engage in an apocalyptic Civil War than give up the trade of humans as chattel.

They’ve been going on since Vladimir Lenin decided that in order to make a “perfect world” he would have to break some eggs.

They’ve been going on since Hutus and Tutsis destroyed Lake Victoria with each other’s dead bodies.

They’ve been going on since a cop shot a man in a car for no other reason than he appeared to be threatened.

We cannot begin changing others under our own power until we change ourselves first.

If we could, we would have done it already.

We need more Jesus, not less.

And not the Jesus we make up to make ourselves feel comfortable about our human evils, and to justify our judgements and decisions, but the Jesus who is what He says He is.

Or else…well…just look at the headlines, the videos, the news reports, and the decay of interaction to see what the inevitable outcome will look like.

20 Comments

  • That is truly is an age old debate. Is man inherently evil or intrinsically good? I will agree that human nature never changes and will never change. You can’t legislate morality and you shouldn’t try to. Government is there to try and manage or direct the actions and reactions of people because that is all they can do. I would say laws, rules and code of ethics are there because once we moved beyond the family units in ever larger communities we have never been able to figure out how to make it work. Probably never will either. Utopias are the ultimate expression of our hope for that perfect system and we both hope for and despair against their existence.
    My humble is opinion on the good vs evil of humanity is that it is neither. You are looking for an answer that doesn’t exist. As humans we want it to be a simple answer but with all the factors leading up to an individual making day to day decisions it simply isn’t.
    Say I’m walking to work. I have my established route because it’s the shortest and easiest one but some days I take the alternate route that is a little longer but it has a small view of the landscape that gives a pleasant start to my day. I know this can be shunted to the pain vs pleasure argument but that isn’t my intention. The shortest path is a right turn and the view is the left. Which one do I take per day? Why did I turn left on three days a week and right for two?
    To find you would have to analyze every step of each day. What I ate, who I interacted with, how my day had gone, what was I expecting the day to consist of, did I need that pleasant view to give me an emotional anchor for a tough day ahead?
    It could be none of those factors it could be all of them. It could simply be that I got ready faster or slower and that determined my decision. It might be something from my childhood that influenced to stop and smell the roses that day.
    This small thought experiment can be translated to life and human nature. We are both the sum of our experiences and at the same time none of them. We do things for complex reasons beyond our understanding at times and for the simplest ones much to our own confusion, enjoyment or disgust.
    Most will have many shades of gray factored in because that is where human nature exists. In the gray. Never fully defined or having a definite shape which is why its and age old unsolvable question. It’s frustrating to think that there isn’t an answer but that is how it is. For as many evils a person can trot out to prove the evils of man another can parade his demonstration of the good he has accomplished. The long and the short is that we are both evil and good. Its is up to us to demonstrate either.
    If given the chance people will do the worst things they can do is the current mantra and the last century certainly seems to prove that. I can’t say much when thinking about the death camps, genocides, and wars. It is really hard to argue for the good of man in the face of all that. All considered when the number of evil actors are measured against the people who showed the best of humanity. You will find that there were more good than evil. The mechanism of large societies can harnessed for both purposes. If we lose hope and claim that the darkness will and is winning we run the risk of apathy and of losing sight of the good we do for each other on a daily basis even in the smallest of things.
    On the social media aspect the biggest problem I see is that text lacks tone and expression. Words mean different things for different people and depending on how your post or feelings are structured it lacks a tone of voice to given them your true intent. This response for example. I am terrible with punctuation. For some reason I have never been able to understand it. I write in run on sentences and think too fast and type far slower than I would like to. Words are either missing or thoughts abruptly stop. If we were speaking face to face or on the phone this wouldn’t be an issue but there it is.
    Because of this missing information people react to how they perceive the conversation would be going in a face to face encounter. However being behind a keyboard gives you a lack of social awareness and the fear of repercussions. Afterall the worst that can happen is they unfriend you. The hate and all that flows from facebook and others, I think, is a result of that lack of tone and social accountability. I’m guilty of falling into that routine more time than I care to admit but in the last few years I’ve tried to post only what I’ve researched and can explain or debate. I also post memories from childhood because it’s nice for something like that to pop up for family to read and appreciate. I don’t care if others read them or see it.
    On the religion front if that is what does it for you then great. You’ve found an ethos that makes sense for you. I’ve done the Jesus and god thing. It didn’t explain anything and it never gave me peace. Nothing ever has. To the depths of my soul I want to believe but I just can’t bring myself to do that. I’ve tried philosophy for decades and the only life changing event or epiphany I’ve ever had was on a dirty disgusting bed in a crack house fighting an acid trip that turning was into a nightmare.
    Anyway this is getting long so in short humanity isn’t evil or good its both and not black or white. Social media lacks true context and depth therefore reactions will be extreme. I’m glad god works for you but not for me. For fun define honesty and it role in society and you will find it is something that is the same as human nature.

    • Wow… these words were so deep and insightful that I had to check your page for pictures. I stared at you at length… I stared at you in appreciation of your uncanny ability to express unexplainable truths. Thanks!

    • Thanks. It’s what I think so far. It’d be nice to check back in 20 or more years and see how my opinions have changed. When I look at it it’s a somewhat apathetic answer in regards to the question but it’s what makes sense to me at the moment.
      Enjoy life man.

    • Eric Williams Thank you for you prescient comments. There are three ways I would like to respond: 1) I agree that this is an age old debate. However, it seems to be one that we are no longer interested in having publicly. Instead, we engage in looking at spectacle, become numb, and wait for the next spectacle to arrive, gaining no greater wisdom and coming to no different conclusions about how to impact the human condition in a beneficial manner. Which gets us to: 2) I agree that our social tools have given us the window dressing of wisdom without the commensurate actuality of growth. I agree that context is critical when posting, which is why the inherent nature of social media platforms are merely designed for the aforementioned spectacle, rather than the development of long form wisdom. Which is the reason why I publish a blog post everyday, rather than comment wildly every time a new example of human evil pops into my Facebook feed. As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of Twitter, but social platforms are a poor place to achieve nuance. 3) I would not confuse the real relationship with Jesus that I talked about with religion, which is about rituals, rites, and rules. With relationship, you get grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding, compassion, and the ability to dole that same thing out to others–regardless of what their ethos may, or may not–be. Churches cannot become such a thing without individuals performing the hard work of engaging with a Christ, not of their making or their imagination, but the Christ who is what He says He is. In a world where human evil is rampant, this is a tough sell to both the doubter AND the Believer. Thank you once again for reading my essay, and for having the insight and courage to comment. I appreciate it.

    • Vincent VI Sanford Thanks for commenting on Eric’s post!

  • Beth Hills says:

    Well said and on point!

  • Marion Irwin says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. Jesus does have a remarkable message, and having him more present in our hearts and actions is definitely a good way to do the long, hard work of purifying our hearts.

  • Excellent. I don’t get a chance to read all of your articles Jesan

  • I don’t get a chance to read all of your articles Jesan but I am so thankful for your words today. Thank you for your wonderful message.

  • Scott Boyer says:

    It is true that all have the capacity for the gravest of evil also to the capacity for good. I would not say it is inherent and that we are with out choice. Even a small docile mouse will fight back and yes the fight is always in him but it is not in the nature nor is it inherent genetically. Survival in the first order in matters of life and death causes all matter of misconception, In such situations people do what they normally would not. We are not creatures of impulse and we do not have to act out every thought but that also does not mean we will not have such thoughts. The having of thoughts where ever you place good or ill does not make one evil, it makes one human thats what we do. . Think. Then we choose we all have a choice always.

  • Scott Baker says:

    Great point Jesan.