Human Suffering And The Myth Of Impunity

What goes around comes around, and that’s not such a bad thing.


The other day, I came upon a temporary road closure while a truck with an over-sized load made a right turn. But didn’t see the truck, only the line of cars, and I thought there was some sort of accident and that people were making their way around it. I came to a stop on the right shoulder at the side of the head of the line. The guy next to me honked his horn and then flipped me off when I looked at him.

I felt the desire to avenge his offense, really, I did, but held that thought in abeyance. I considered again, the reasons he may have had for flipping me off. I wasn’t particularly offended, but I could feel a sort of cultural influence, like in the movies where the offended give chase and deliver the hammer to the offender.

Of course, I wondered if he was packing heat, and that gave me pause. As the truck finished its very wide turn, the line of cars was released and we went on our way. I went straight through a green light (haha), and Mr. Middle Finger stopped at the left turn late and waited for his signal to turn green (tee hee). Still, I wanted to at least stick my tongue out at him as I passed him, but better sense prevailed. My wife and kids were there and she would not approve.

So that person, in the comfort of his own car, felt safe enough to “punish me” for my error in good faith. I wasn’t trying to get ahead of anyone or cheat anyone. I was trying to figure out what was going on. I would have only gained a few seconds anyway, so I was not motivated for any mischief.

But that insulation from others, in the metal confines of a car, seems to be enough for people to think that they are the sole arbiters of who shall be punished or not, to deliver that punishment, and then scoot away before they are somehow apprehended.

Finally, I considered the plight of the other driver. Why the need to inflict pain on anyone, anyway? We were all waiting for the same thing, even if I was side by side with him at the head of the line. So I should be punished for my error? You assume you know my motivation now, don’t you? Was I motivated by spite or confusion? Does it really matter?

I’ve flipped people off myself in traffic when I was a much younger man, too. I know, I know. But I’m older and wiser now. I have a much greater sense of my mortality now than I did back then. I don’t do that anymore, for they might be giants, or at least, they might be packing a bazooka.

But I do know that when I did flip someone off from my cozy chariot, I was in pain. Honestly, I can think of no other reason for people to inflict pain on someone else. I may not have known it then, but I know it now, that when I inflict pain on someone else, it’s because I’m in pain. So I extrapolate from there.

There is no reward in making others suffer

When people are suffering, they tend to make other people suffer. This seems especially true when it comes to people with power. When people have real power, such as great wealth and/or political power, they may find that such gifts are not enough to make them happy. So they make others suffer in the belief that somehow, that will make them happy too, but it never really does.

There’s something I learned in math as a boy. A negative number multiplied with a positive number is always a negative number. For example, 1 x -2= -2. I don’t know why that is, I just know that is how it is. If we apply that reasoning to human behavior, we find that we cannot use destructive or hurtful thinking or action to arrive at a positive result. In other words, if I want to be happy, I can’t be happy by making other people suffer.

There appear to be some people who believe that they can find happiness by making other people suffer. But experience shows that making people suffer only leads to more suffering for everyone, including the instigator. And some very intelligent people have made the mistake of imposing ever-greater suffering on other people, only to find that no matter how much suffering they cause, they’re still not happy. Even so, I’m pretty sure that there are people who cause great suffering and are completely unaware that they are not happy as a result.

I have encountered people who seem to want to make me suffer, for whatever reason. I used to take that sort of thing personally, but now, I just take note that people who intend to cause me suffering are suffering. They cause suffering because they have no idea that they could do anything better. Their skills are limited. They have not learned how to handle their own suffering in a mature, thoughtful way. Most likely, they are doing what they learned from their parents.

When parents abuse their kids, they are already suffering. Abusive parents will use verbal and even physical abuse to “get their way”. Then they get upset when their kids abuse their siblings to get their own way, too. But the greatest confusion for parents arises when those kids, upon discovering their own power, turn those skills and point them back at their parents.

Kids are always watching adults. They see how adults behave and interpret that behavior as a survival skill. Kids are very deep learners. They watch, they learn, they imitate and refine. Whatever Mommy and Daddy do, the kids will figure it out and do that, too.

There is no such thing as impunity

Most parents who abuse their kids do so with a sense of impunity. What is impunity? Here is Webster’s definition:

When people commit a transgression, harm, against someone else, it is assumed by them that they can do so with impunity, without punishment, without consequence. But as anyone who knows physics is well aware, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We can thank Sir Issac Newton for that one. To put it differently, if you push really, really hard on the universe, be prepared to duck.

Notice that I say that people assume that they can commit harm with impunity. They may certainly feel justified in doing so. But as previously noted, you cannot commit a negative, destructive or hurtful act and expect anything positive to come from it. Believe me, I’ve tried many times and it has never worked for me.

Where to put that anger

When I was a young adult I was so angry, I didn’t know what to do with it. So I bought a baseball bat and went to the park in the middle of the night and found a nice patch of sand in seclusion. Then I pounded the sand and screamed at the top of my lungs until I was tired. Then I went home and got some sleep. It took me a few weeks, maybe months to get to the point where I could stop doing that. I expelled my anger that way because I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted to let the anger out in the safest way possible. And I did that.

For all the vengeful thoughts I might have had at the time, I never actually thought I could hurt someone and get away with it. Whatever I was feeling, I owned it, it was mine and I was going to do what I needed to do to expel that anger before it expelled me from the earth. I did not have any sense of impunity that comes with committing a horrendous crime of violence and passion, so I always sought ways to understand how I was thinking and feeling. I learned to take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I also recognized that I am not responsible for the actions of other people.

Science destroys the myth of impunity

Did you notice that? I said, in so many words, that all crimes are committed with a sense of impunity. It is just a sense of impunity, for everyone and everything is connected. Scientists working on problems of particle physics have figured this out with experiments that demonstrate a concept known as entanglement.

It’s actually called quantum entanglement, and it’s the observation that particles can be somehow connected. In the experiments that I read about, scientists set up two particles of the same type speeding away from each other after a certain reaction. They measure the spin of both particles, one is up and one is down. They flip one and the other one flips — simultaneously — without regard to the distance involved. More recent experiments estimate the speed of this “connection” to be greater than 10,000 times the speed of light.

Their explanation? Everything is connected. The most interesting thing about these experiments is that although this is what they have observed in the laboratory, what they observed isn’t isolated. It happens all the time. I think that the existence of life depends on quantum entanglement.

Scientists aren’t the only people who think that everything is connected. Buddhists know this. There are some very spiritual people who also know this. They know that they cannot harm someone else without harming themselves. I don’t claim to be spiritual, but I do honor that principle. I cannot harm you or anyone else without harming myself.

Scientists have done other experiments to show that you cannot observe an experiment without influencing the outcome. That one really blew my mind, and not in a bad way. That is to say that I cannot observe the universe without having some small influence on it. Now we’re not even talking about harm, we’re only talking about being an observer and just as an observer, we can have an influence on the outcome of an event.

If they only knew

Police behave differently when they’re on camera than when they’re acting in private. Politicians pass awful bills in the dead of night, hoping no one will notice. Everyone behaves differently depending on who is watching. Ever notice how parents at church take their kids in private for “discipline”? Ever notice how they do stuff in private to their kids that they would never, ever do in public? Shhh! That’s a secret!

Parents, police, and politicians can’t act with impunity whether others are watching or not. But when they do try, they can never truly extricate themselves from the consequences of their actions. No one can, really, under any circumstances.

There is a natural consequence of every action, no matter how much money or power one has. We are all connected and our fates are joined. It is impossible to truly act with impunity, without consequence. Everything in the universe is connected.

If I hurt someone, I hurt myself, regardless of however discreet I might be about it. From a careless word to body blows, it doesn’t really matter. I cannot commit a negative act, even in private, with impunity. It always comes back to me.

The opposite is true, too. One good deed deserves another. Treat thy neighbor as one would wish to be treated. Smiles are still free. Hugs are free.

I am always thinking about this. So I have made a habit of being positive with these concepts in mind. That is why I am gentle with my kids, my wife, and my family. I am gentle with everyone for a reason. Not just because I know any negative act on my part will come back to me. I am gentle with everyone because I want people to be gentle with me.

Write on.

Originally published on, September 28th, 2017. Updated for grammar, clarity and an occasional turn of phrase.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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