I recently saw the movie “The Gangs of New York.” I won’t say I enjoyed it, but I would recommend it as an excellent history lesson. It was one of those movies where you leave saying, “We just never learn.” It is about generations passing their prejudices, ideals, feelings and values on to the next generation—and that generation blindly perpetuating the same actions and receiving the same results, good and bad.
We just keep doing it. Are President Bush’s actions really different than his father’s? Is Saddam really different than the leader of one of the gangs of New York? Without a conscious effort to change, are anyone’s actions that different than their primary role model’s or what we have seen in history? When I was in therapy, I learned that generally we tend to either follow in our parents footsteps or react in a way exactly opposite them—sometimes a good thing, often not.
You may feel this article is anti-war. It isn’t. It is, however, about learning from our past, about recognizing when something is not working.
There is a quote by Duane Elgin which says: “We cannot expect there to be peace within the human family if we are at war within ourselves.” You may remember from one of my previous columns that my father was in a wheelchair for most of my childhood. My mother tells me Dad did not go there lightly. He became quite bitter, and my parents’ relationship became very difficult. At one point, Mom said she demanded a truce so they could look at what was happening to them. I don’t know the details, but I do know the man my father became.
You may also remember that I told of my father inviting a young boy—who was staring at my father and his wheelchair—to come over, touch the chair and stand on the footpads, to learn the chair would not hurt him and was simply one person’s way of being able to move through life. My father had obviously resolved his “war within himself” or he would not have been able to reach out unselfishly to this boy. I know Dad’s attitude about life positively touched many other people who came in contact with him.
I often wonder about that boy my dad reached out to. My imagination can see him going out to play the next day in a not-so-nice neighborhood, watching some not-so-nice friends approach him about robbing the old blind guy on the corner. Maybe Dad’s action taught the boy that people who look different are still people, not freaks without feelings and rights. I don’t believe that Dad’s one connection would have changed the boy’s entire attitude about life, but it may have caused him—perhaps just for that day—to think twice and to decide, no, it would be more fun to go play hoops.
This may sound like a scenario out of “Pollyanna” but it does illustrate a point. The 12-Step program has a saying, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” If we continue to do the things that the past has proven will not work, life will continue to not work.
So am I saying we shouldn’t go to war with Iraq? If I try to press my belief about that on you, I continue to perpetuate the idea that my way is the only way—that I am right and the infamous they are wrong. I become no better than the persons who see life in a way I may not choose. I can, however, decide to let my actions speak for me.
There is an old adage: “If we want a peaceful world, we need peaceful people.” When people are at peace with themselves, they tend to reach out to others and create more peace. I like to think of peace as a raindrop hitting a lake. Each drop is small and hits the lake in only one spot. Each of us has seen, however, that spot growing larger and larger as it reaches out to the rest of the lake with it’s new motion.
We teach so much more by our actions than our words. I’m sure that when Jesus performed a miracle in front of a group of people, his actions made a great impression. And we now know some of those “miracles” were not supernatural. They were simply a different way of doing something, a way no one had ever seen or thought of before. Jesus had so much peace within that he could envision “different” ways to achieve things—he was not completely wrapped up in his own internal war.
Will unconditionally loving actions immediately right all wrongs? Probably not, but have our past actions achieved that? And if they seemed to, were the results permanent?
So when we see atrocities—such as people being killed for what they believe—should we just stand by and not take action? Of course not. We do, however, need to completely understand all consequences of that action and the manner in which we implement it. When any one group decides their action is the only way, and that it must be physically forced onto the other group, they ultimately become no better or different than the group committing the atrocity.
I find it hard to believe that whatever force put us on this Earth, in such diverse forms, expects us to become exact duplicates of each other—selecting only one action to be the right action. Why would we have originally been given such unique looks and attitudes if the ultimate goal was not diversity? Perhaps the true reason was to learn from each other—to learn new ways to do things—and ultimately, the only way to learn a new way is to be open to learning. And I have found, at least in my life, I am most open when I feel the least threatened—when I feel at peace within myself.
Often I think we feel hopeless and assume an attitude that a situation is too large for one individual to make a difference—that the train has already jumped the tracks and there is nothing we can do about it. At those times, we need to know in our hearts that the way we live our lives does make a difference. Additionally, just because someone else chooses to walk another way, it does not diminish our way. We need to choose our own path toward being a peaceful person and to purposefully walk it. We need to create peace one person at a time, for we as individuals do make a difference. We can cause a huge ripple of peace in the lake of life—one drop at a time!