[Author’s note: this was originally published in the Hearthstone Community Church newsletter, 03/2017.]
On Waging War
There are so many of us who are deeply engaged with the political process at this time. Perhaps it is the first time for some, a continuation of activism for others, a return to activism for those of us who thought such things were now safe in the hands of the next generation. There are those who are unwilling to be involved in activism, who seek respite from a conflict they do not choose.
The divisiveness and acrimony that so frequently accompany a national election did not, this time, subside. Across the country, across communities and subcultures, emotions run high. While a few feel satisfied with the results of our recent election, there are so many who are unsettled, pushing back, rising up. Every report indicates that the political landscape is entirely changed from any we have seen in decades.
Whether this is for good or ill, remains to be seen. But, without question, good can come from this.
How then, do we wage war?
There are a few truths that can guide us.
It is a truth of a long life that fierce anger is not sustainable indefinitely. The soul, even of the warrior, must have peace. So, we cannot mistake anger for honor nor the other way around. If we can only rise up in anger we will soon become disillusioned with ourselves and the world. Wrongs and injustice do not lose their color when we take our rest. We have not failed the world when we sleep at night. It is possible to condemn injustice with words that are level and clear, sometimes that is the most powerful delivery of all. Anger is not the same as honor. Anger burns hot, and eventually burns out. Honor is a constant guidance that sustains us not only in battle, but in reflection.
While there is much in the world that is unbalanced, unjust, even horrible, there are actually very few evil individuals. Most of what is wrong in the world of humans comes down to the imperfections of humanity. Therefore, it is both more efficient, and less damaging, in the long run, to fight the choices, actions and outcomes that are wrong, rather than focusing on the individuals. This has the result of helping us to focus and articulate our values, teach them to others, and bring about reconciliation when that is appropriate, without diluting our commitment to continuing to create a just world.
In many cases, future reconciliation is possible. Regardless of the heat of a conflict, many of us have lived long enough to see just how often those conflicts fade into the past, and how important and how fragile is human community. We will not all love everyone. But we will outlive most of our worst contentions and continue to live side by side. Also, we frequently overlook the collateral damage of hating a specific individual. Potential friends, employers and romantic partners who have no side in a battle will have the chance to observe how we handle anger, fear, and spite, and consider for themselves what that means about us in other situations. When we refuse the easy path of personalizing our anger, we pave the way for better situations in the future, if not with our immediate combatant, then, at least, with the people around us and around them. To refuse to demonize the enemy is to maintain strength in the fight, and to maintain more options for the future.
There is another value in refusing to demonize our opposition. When it is a principal, not a person, that we fight or stand for, we are less vulnerable to the treachery that hides behind goodness. Scoundrels seek out the blind spots that are above reproach. When we decide that a certain position in our culture, a clergy member, a medical worker, an emergency services worker, is above suspicion by virtue of that position, we set up a blind spot. When we refuse, on principal, to demonize our enemies we open ourselves to the truth that flaws can be found in our allies or friends. Rather than devastating us, this can strengthen and empower us to both survive a human betrayal and to recognize a pattern that is out of balance or should raise suspicion. It is too hard to wage a war against the people we love, but it is less draining to stand against choices, actions, and outcomes we know are wrong. It is still hard.
Joy. There are many reasons to stand up for what is right, but one of the best has to be: joy. It is good to stand up for what is right. It is satisfying to uncover the things in life that are truly worth fighting for and to take a place in that fight. It is deeply meaningful to discover our common values, to meet our comrades, our partners, and peers in the struggle for a just human community. It is a wondrous thing to recognize our common humanity in people we previously viewed as different or unrelated. There is little need to take a break from joy. Joy is a fulfilling experience and reminds us of why we cherish being human and being alive.
We arise to battle.
We are whole.
Peace of the mountains to you,
Founder: the Denver Celtic Women’s Circle