The way of the human being is the way of understanding. We are ‘Homo sapiens,’ which means ‘wise man.’ So our way is the way of wisdom. It is distinctly human to want to understand what we encounter and to respond to what we encounter through the wisdom that comes from this understanding.
So when someone has behaved in a destructive way, the truly human way of responding to this behavior is by wanting to understand it. And the appropriate response to the behavior is a result of this understanding.
Punishing people by killing them is not the way of understanding. Killing people as a punishment is the outcome of NOT understanding. If we would understand every element that contributed to the destructive behavior, from genes to upbringing to personal choices, the result of this understanding would be a more compassionate approach.
But if we do not understand, we may demonize people by saying they are ‘pure evil,’ or we let our emotions get the better of us by wanting revenge. Another argument of those who do not understand could be that these criminals do not deserve to live anymore, especially at the expense of the taxpayer.
We do not want to kill as a punishment when we truly understand, because when we understand we can identify with the other. We recognize the basic humanity of the other through our understanding. That’s why showing mercy is an expression of wisdom. When we don’t understand, we cannot identify with the other and so the other is perceived as alien.
But just as we feel love for the one who has killed, we also feel love for the victims. So the appropriate action to take with people who have these destructive tendencies is to make sure they will not be able to do any more harm. And the best solution we currently have is to put them in prison. That is the wiser solution.