Counterfactual: The "what if" of history. What would have happened if we did things differently?
Counterfactuals are hard to nail down. We can only speculate as to what would have been should we have chosen a different path or made a different decision. What if I had stayed in school, joined the military, not gotten into drugs? So many of us have pondered these things, often with regret, wishing we'd made a different choice. What is certain, at least to me, is that people like Montrell Jackson leave no room for chance. They live their lives so the counterfactual is only a less amazing version of the reality they've created.
The following is the transcript from the above podcast episode:
“I’m tired, physically and emotionally; disappointed in some family, friends, and officers for some reckless comments but hey, what’s in your heart is in your heart. I still love you all because hate takes too much energy but I definitely won’t be looking at you the same.
Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me or my wife. It was needed and much appreciated. I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity, you realize they don’t really know you at all. Look at my actions; they speak LOUD and CLEAR.
Finally, I want to send prayers out to everyone directly affected by this tragedy. These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer, I got you. 👮🏾✌🏿”
- Slain Officer Montreal Jackson of Baton Rouge PD
This was posted July 8th, the day after five officers were killed in Dallas. Montrell was killed nine days after this post, in Baton Rouge, by someone who allowed hatred to infect his heart.
I have been off the air and away from a computer for about a week. Last Thursday, just a week after the murder of five police officers in Dallas, I had much to say and cringed at the thought of being unable to communicate with all of you. To be honest though, I was completely discouraged by that point. After wading through every detail of the Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Dallas incidents, I had nothing left. To say I was in a state of despair would be putting it lightly.
My job is always to be honest, seek truth, and bring it to the masses. While I may have a special ability to separate emotion from fact and logic, I’m human too. It takes everything I have to keep emotion out of my content. The police community is like any other family; there’s always a black sheep, the uncle who drinks too much, the sister who went off the deep end. In the case of such a large family that is our law enforcement community, there is no doubt a herd of black sheep.
Despite our imperfections, we’re family. We understand each other, can empathize with the struggles we all go through, we speak the same language. So when an officer is killed, it truly hurts me in ways that most people just don’t understand. I take it personal, I want to stop it, to prevent future attacks on my family. But I can’t.
I went off the grid last Thursday to be a counselor at a camp for at risk teenage boys, all of them in foster care. Going into this camp, I felt like I had nothing to give to the young men I was about to be mentoring; boys who don’t have good father figures, who haven’t been shown love and respect, who don’t know what it means to be a man of valor, which was the theme of the weekend. I knew I’d get more from them than they would from me. I was right.
So, Thursday night, I shut down the phone and tried to forget about the world. The kids showed up the next morning and we had a blast. By Sunday evening, my spirits had been lifted, my faith in mankind restored. It was the break I needed, but it was much, much more than that. Those kids showed me what the future could look like, what the world could be if we choose it.
Before I get to that, I must explain what happened next. As Sunday afternoon rolled around, I was completely exhausted; mentally, physically and especially emotionally. I should have known better than to read the CNN headline that popped onto my screen just after my phone booted up. Three more officers had just been killed in Baton Rouge in an obvious ambush targeting the police.
Suddenly, the despair I had been able to escape over the weekend came crashing back down. I was back to square one. Welcome back to the real world! I drove the rest of the way home listening to the details coming in over the radio, wondering what this world has come to and how I can stop this country from tearing itself apart.
The truth is: I know I can’t stop it, at least not alone. But if this last weekend showed me anything, it's that we CAN get along. I spent three days watching these boys interacting with each other and I can’t escape how starkly their actions contrast with what is going on in our country right now. It struck me how a bunch of boys, living in such terrible situations, could all find common ground, regardless of where they came form or what their skin color was.
I found myself wondering; what is the difference between these boys and the “adults” in our society who are so full of hatred? Two things stood out to me.
Difference #1: A Belief in Others
These boy had a hope within them I think we are all born with, yet one that is all too often snuffed out by life. They still had hope that other people could be trusted, that their counselors really did care about them, really did love them. Those kids still believed in the goodness of other people.
I can’t explain why. They have every reason not to trust a single human being. They have been moved from one family to the next, abused, neglected, and just all around treated like trash. But those kids still have something we’ve lost as a society, a belief that other people sometimes do mean what they say and say what they mean.
Difference #2: A Lack of Agitators
With no media, no bigoteers, and no money (we’re all volunteers) to push anyone’s agenda, these kids didn’t have anyone telling them who to hate. We live in a world where we rely on paid professionals to tell us who to hate rather than just talking to each other. At camp, kids no doubt had their differences, but they dealt with them face to face, like men; MEN OF VALOR. The result? Peace; and an enduring respect for each other.
We CAN get along, we're just living in an environment that won’t allow it. There are too many people with a strong financial interest in keeping us at each other’s throats. The only thing we can do to change that is stop listening to those people/organizations and start finding truth through sources we can trust and through talking to each other like real men and women of valor.
Consider The Counterfactual
More importantly, I was reminded of something I often forget: Each life we change for the better has an immeasurable impact on the future of that person and the world. What I mean is that we can never truly know the counterfactual (what would have happened if we didn’t take action). Take for example the following young men:
This first boy was interested in fine arts to the chagrin of his father, who wanted him to go into business. When his brother died, he became an introvert and detached from society. Then his dad, whose approval he had yet to attain, died when he was 16 years old. Two years later he dropped out of school. After being denied admission to a fine arts school, he found himself in a homeless shelter, completely broke and no doubt disillusioned. Here, in his despair, many believe he began to cultivate his anti-Semitic beliefs.
He went on to become a great leader and warrior for his country, but something was very wrong. His heart was full of hatred for a people whom he blamed for his plight and the plight of his country. This boy, who just needed someone to believe in him and encourage him, became one of histories most notorious faces of evil. Around 6 million innocent Jewish men, women and children lost their lives to Adolf Hitler.
This next young man was born December 21st, 1879. His father was an alcoholic and they lived in poverty, like most everyone else in his society at the time. He was picked on by his peers due to a pock-marked face and a shriveled arm. Fighting a sense of inferiority, he became cruel to those who crossed him. He fought to be great, demanding respect and power at the cost of at least 20 million lives. This boy, whose life is a tragic tale of revenge, was Joseph Stalin.
In each case, we can only wonder at the counterfactual: what would have happened if Hitler’s father had encouraged and supported his interests in the fine arts, or if Joseph Stalin’s father had been a sober man who instilled integrity and forgiveness in the young boy.
The crux of the matter is that we don’t get to see the counterfactual when we change the trajectory of someone’s life. Many of the kids at camp this weekend will go on to be honest, good man of valor. Some of them would have anyway. For others, though, that little nudge in the right direction was the difference between a life of destruction and a life of peace, hope... even greatness. We will never know the tragedies avoided or the successes created by our actions, but we must remember there is always a counterfactual.
I know this all sounds so academic, so out of touch with reality, and in a way it is. We live in a world where the loudest voices are those of discontent, hatred and vitriol. How can we get along when we’re so inundated with hatred from both sides?! I think it starts with remembering that every adult was once a child, looking for someone to love them, to lead them, to show them the goodness contained within every human heart. If we recognize this, if we choose to never give up on that broken and hurting child within, there is hope.
It’s not too late. This world is full of good, compassionate people. You are one of them. I am one of them. Alone, not a single one of us can fix the problems we face. But every act of kindness, every selfless expression of compassion could be the difference between the next Dallas shooter or the next cop, laying down his or her life for someone who hates him. In the esteemed words of Seth Godin, “You are more powerful than you think you are; act accordingly.”
Officer Montrell Jackson's words and actions as an officer will no doubt have a huge positive impact on the future of those he touched. We will never know how he changed the course of history, we just know he changed it for the better. Be a Montrell Jackson: choose to love those who hate you and realize how powerful you are. If you don't, the counterfactual could be devastating.
Do Good || Be Strong || Fear Nothing