Extreme IdeasSaturday, 02 April 2011 01:44
Positive Health Magazine
Last July and August our television news programmes were full of pictures of young people who were desperately trying to make the world over into what they thought it ought to be. First there were the young men who believed they could change the world by planting bombs and killing people. They were followed by the crowds of young people, some as young as fourteen, trying to stop Israeli soldiers from expelling them from the Jewish settlements in Gaza. While these events were going on Channel Four was showing a series called Hitler’s Children about how the Nazi leaders forced every German child to join a youth movement, one for boys and one for girls, which appeared to give them great benefits but which was intended to prepare them to fight Hitler’s war and, for the girls, to breed a race of Aryan heroes. Newsreels from that time show these girls and boys demonstrating their intense loyalty to their Führer and promising to do whatever he ordered. All of these young people were acting on the extreme ideas which had been taught to them by their elders. The young men who were prepared to become suicide bombers had been taught that to die in a jihad against the infidel was to die the death of a glorious martyr renowned through the Muslim world. The Jewish teenagers had been taught that God had given Palestine to His Chosen People, the Jews, and so the Palestinians had to be expelled. The German children had been taught that theirs was the master race destined to rule the world and that the Führer would always look after them.
Whatever our age, we all want our life to have some significance. We don’t want to feel that when we die no one will remember us in any way at all. As they get older most adults will settle for the significance of having family, friends, work what has made some contribution to society, and simple enjoyment, but in our childhood and youth we see the significance we desire in more dramatic terms. Our fantasies about our future life go to extremes. If we fantasise being a footballer, then it has to be a champion; if our fantasy is to be a mother then it has to be a most beautiful woman surrounded by adoring children and the handsomest of husbands. By the end of our childhood we are well aware that the world is not what it ought to be. We become impatient with the adults who’ve made such a mess of things. We determine to make the world a better place, and become famous in so doing. If we are lucky we have around us adults who gently show us that the world is a complex, ambiguous place, and that it is futile to try to force reality to be what we want it to be because reality will always go its own way. If we are unlucky, we encounter those adults who hold extreme ideas and who want to use us to put those ideas into practice. They use us and betray us.
All of the elderly people who recounted their stories in the Hitler Youth showed on their faces if not in their words how hurt they had been by their betrayal by the Nazis. However, they knew they were lucky to be alive. Many of their number had died in the war and others committed suicide at the war’s end. The four young men who had their life in front of them instead had their body parts scattered around an underground tunnel or a London bus, while the four who failed to explode their bombs face a life time in gaol where they will not be treated kindly. And, as Lindsey Hilsun, reporting from Gaza for the Channel Four news, wondered, how will Israel cope with all those young people who expected that God would perform a miracle and save the settlements in Gaza? Some will feel bitter and betrayed by their elders and by God, while others will carry out far more drastic actions in trying to force the world to be what they want it to be. Their extreme actions will provoke more extreme actions from those they attack.
An extreme belief is one which allows of no exceptions, no matter what the circumstances may be. Extreme beliefs never reflect reality, and they always lead to suffering. Many people hold extreme beliefs. My friend Monica believes that all the drugs prescribed doctors are dangerous. She also has a great fear of needles. Ten years ago she developed arthritis. She refuses to have acupuncture and she takes no pain killers. She smiles brightly while her hand taps out on her knee the tattoo of persistent pain. Her friends and family worry about her, but we operate on a mutual agreement. We don’t tell her to abandon her belief and take something for the pain, and she doesn’t tell us that we’re ruining our health by following our doctor’s treatment. If someone does hold an extreme idea this is how it should be. If you hold an extreme belief the only person who should suffer is yourself.