By David Hegg
In logic there is a fallacy known as non sequitur. This Latin phrase simply means “does not follow” and describes a situation where a supposed “effect” actually “does not follow” from its supposed cause. Here is an example – absurd to be sure – of a non sequitur: Where does wind come from? It obviously is caused by the leaves of the trees waving. When the leaves wave, the movement causes the wind to blow. We know this to be true because, when we landed men on the moon there was no wind because there were no trees!
Unfortunately, not all non sequiturs are as easy to spot. It is increasingly the case that our society is unable to distinguish improperly argued cause and effect. In fact, we’ve come to believe one tragic non sequitur to be gospel truth. Here it is: If I get hurt in some way (effect), then someone did something evil (cause), and must pay.
We have become a no-fault society. Bad things are happening, but it is always someone else’s fault. In fact, any negative thing that brings pain or inconvenience into life is almost always chalked up to someone’s error or malice.
What is even more aggravating is the fact that, if I get hurt by something or someone, it is a given in our society that those doing the hurting are evil and must be brought to account. I am thinking primarily of interaction in the area of communication. It has gotten to the place where telling the truth puts you at risk of being labeled as insensitive or worse.
But we all know that sometimes the truth hurts. Correction is often accompanied by pain. Just ask the physician who must set a broken bone. And the same can be true in relationships, be they in business or family. The Apostle Paul found out the hard way when he had to reprove the folks in Galatia. In Galatians 4:16 he asked the serious but rhetorical question: “Have I become you enemy by telling you the truth?”
Too often it is just that simple. Truth-telling, in an attempt to set a crooked situation straight, may cause pain and, in our society, this, apparently, justifies retaliation. The truth-teller becomes the enemy, the insensitive perpetrator. The one in need of correction becomes the innocent victim whose pain is evidence of a great crime.
But it goes even further. Being hurt apparently gives one a license to respond poorly. Most often those in pain choose not to discuss the issue, but react out of their pain and launch personal attacks. We see this in our worlds of business, politics and personal relationships.
The truth that needs to be recovered is that pain is often either self-inflicted, or connected to needed correction. The correction didn’t cause the pain; it merely uncovered the error, bringing it to the surface. When delivered in love, truth deals with a sliver that, left undiscovered, would fester and bring about greater pain in the future.
Lastly, alongside the fallacy that the presence of pain is evidence of evil action lies the equally destructive belief that all pain is, itself, evil. We are fast becoming a nation addicted to emotional pain-killers. We are anesthetizing ourselves to death and demanding a pain-free life, pain-free relationships and pain-free conversations. But pain is often the indicator used by both body and mind to let us know something is wrong. And we had better get back to realizing that some of the time our own actions, attitudes, or ideas are to blame.
It is time to reclaim the necessary truth that all too often we are the cause of our own ill effects.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.