Father Greg sat them around the room and prepared to lead his staff through the chain of logic that would identify the thief. “I felt like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot,” he recalled. Or Father Brown indeed.
An American missionary who spent 35 years in Pakistan, Greg ran a heroin-detox clinic not far from the Khyber Pass. Some staffer had stolen something and Greg had interviewed each of the employees individually until he found the tell-tale inconsistencies. Now, (perhaps mildly guilty of the sins of pride and theatricality) he led them through it, step by step.
Hours later we shared a few beers in the club for foreigners. “I don’t get it,” he complained, “after 35 years I wonder if Pakistani brains are different than ours.”
“Come on!” I objected, “all people are hard-wired the same and you know that.”
Father Greg nodded ruefully. But once he had gone around the room, repeated each bit of testimony and identified where each staffer was when the theft occurred, he revealed the solution and nobody blinked, nobody budged, nobody altered his testimony or agreed with his conclusion.
“My logic had no impact at all. It’s as though they never heard me speak,” he murmured. They stuck with their various stories, even when the stories were utterly inconsistent and disproved, and even the honest majority failed to see the illogicality of the others.
I explained that we are raised to recognise inconsistency at all costs. This is reinforced at mealtimes with our families as we grow up, in school and in drama. Inconsistency can make one the butt of jokes or the loser in any discussion. Some heroes of science or religion sacrificed their lives for consistency.
“What if the same amount of effort went into inculcating another virtue, such as loyalty?” I asked.
What if we were instructed to support a sibling or relative or classmate or colleague no matter if they made no sense or had even done wrong? Then, even if we denied an inconsistency that was so obvious that it gave us stomach-aches, we would still put loyalty above reason. Greg agreed that this made more sense than Pakistanis having different brains than us: indeed they have virtues almost identical to ours, but in a different order of priority.
This notion is particularly important for Americans on Independence Day in at least two respects.
First, Americans should understand how their values contributed to their famous order and well-being, from now back to colonial days and before.
But second, it helps to know where American priorities have changed, what suffers neglect and what needs rejuvenation. That requires knowledge, wisdom and application. Americans are “hard-wired” the same as America’s Founders but the changes are often so intrinsic now that they prove elusive.
Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.