Cultivating clarity in the workplace is usually easier than in the rest of life. As I listen to the very sad news regarding the ongoing needless deaths of members of minority groups in the country at the hands of the police, and sad news about the sniper killing the police in Dallas, I can’t help but wonder what awaits us. When I heard that the sniper had been killed by a robot carrying explosives, I was shocked. The sniper was holed up. He could not get at anyone else at the moment.

Following that event, there was another incident where a former member of the U.S. military started killing cops. The cops killed him while he was still shooting. I had no conflict about this. It seemed different from using a drone/robot to take someone out who was not actively shooting.

From reports I have seen, the man who was killed by the robot had also served our country in the military. He had no police record. He had been a useful member of society until he snapped. Why couldn’t the cops just wait for him to fall asleep? Couldn’t interviewing him have led to insights into our problems? Why couldn’t they use a robot with a taser? What about a robot with a sedative? Yes, there have been a few comments about the robot on the news and in columnists’ writings but not many. And I only saw one where someone else made the comment to the effect that “it was unclear why the police did not wait the suspect out.”

The Dallas police have rightly been praised for their handling of the whole situation. But this leaves a dark shadow in my mind. I don’t expect many people to agree with me. Years ago, in one of my early presentations on critical thinking, I suggested that people write something positive and complimentary about someone they really did not like. Of the few people who were willing to do this, every one read their piece in a voice dripping with sarcasm. I recently tried this again in my creative-writing group, with similar results. Isn’t this a deep and well-founded spiritual teaching of all cultures to try to put yourself in another’s shoes?

I recently had a major problem with my computer due to a malware attack. I meditated on loving my enemy, the malware creator. I’ve had difficulties with this in the past, but I had just found a new definition of love: wanting the person to be happy. Loving the malware creator, I realized, is not some idealistic and soft-headed theory. It is simply the most practical and pragmatic thing we can do. I want my enemies to be happy. Then they won’t need to resort to doing things that make me feel they are enemies. I truly do want everyone to be happy. Now, of course that is just step one. What I do to try to make this a reality is much harder.

Cultivating clarity in failure analysis of engineering components and systems has helped me to think more clearly about the bigger societal failures we have. I don’t think I would have thought so quickly and clearly about the consequences and ethics of the use of the bomb-carrying robot if I hadn’t made a commitment to practice cultivating clarity 20 years ago. It takes time to develop the habit of stopping to compare and contrast different ideas before you can connect the dots in a new way and create a new set of options from a situation where others seem entrenched. But if more people choose to study the multitude of resources available for critical and creative thinking, then more people will make progress, and we will have more choices, some of which might actually start to eventually address some of the big issues that face us.

Of course, there’s an unending stream of failures of all types on which to practice our cultivation of clarity. Even if nobody likes my ideas to solve problems, I feel like it’s still valuable to be able to think of new problem-solving methods. Maybe someday one will appeal to others in a broader context than a heat-treating failure.