The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thank You, Mr. Mohammad

In wondering about our motivations for entering Iraq (and the apparent lack of foreplanning about EVER withdrawing) it would be foolish to think that those who stand to gain billions from the flow of oil have the same motivations as those who wish to fight to protect their country. Or that those who seek and hold power have the same motivations as those who merely watch that flow of power from a distance. Or that those who have read and fully digested intelligence reports see the same world as those who read the edited, Reader’s Digest versions of same. We can assume that a full spectrum of human honor and perfidy that can be found at every level of society, and are quite right to keep our guards up.
I recently came across a reference to an earlier Democracy’s expeditionary wars, specifically during the Peloponnesian. Athens was threatening to reduce the island state of Melos to rubble if they did not yield, and the question of motivations arose. The Athenians offered the following comments:“For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretenses, either of how we have a right to our empire, or are now attacking you because of a wrong that you have done us. Since you know as well—you certainly know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only a question between those equal in power, while the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”

This is, and has always been, one of the realities of organisms on this planet. To forget this would be foolish. And to think that those at the top would necessarily discuss their true motivations for actions with an electorate is even more foolish. And when a government shifts its stated motivations several times, the most sensible thing to do, in my mind, is assume that they are not telling us the truth at all, and to feel free to ask oneself what cluster of motivations lying power-seekers might have gathered together to create a coalition capable of action. What combination of fears and greed and hate and love binds together into the kind of actions we have seen? There will be no simple answer. But I can promise you that not all of the truth will be pretty.
I am enjoying the recent bipartisan actions in Washington. Here’s my opinion: anyone who thinks more than 75% of the truth, or the honorable, or the correct is found in either wing of the political spectrum is blind, and their opinion should simply be discounted. Pay attention most to those who seem to hold about a 60-40 split in where they think the Right or the Left is accurate, honest, and true. A bird needs both wings to fly. If either is significantly stronger, that bird will fly in circles, or spiral into the ground. For the last six years, the Right has had its way, and the ghastly results we have seen are a result of this, and NOT, in my mind, some flaw in Right-wing thinking. If the Left had had the same sway, they would have made equivalently disastrous, if different, decision. I pray that the Democrats will be wise enough to share power, and not squat atop it like toads. If they do, they are exactly equivalent to the rascals we are currently throwing out.
Over the weekend, I attended the Whipping Willlow martial arts event, where my old Kenpo instructor Steve Mohammad was honored for lifetime achievement. In his 60’s now, he was so overcome with emotion he could barely speak in a whisper. I cannot begin to tell you what this man, and the road he opened for me, has meant in my life. In combination, the martial arts and the craft of writing extended a narrow bridge above the hell of my emotions, my fear, my resentment. I am quite certain I would be in jail, or dead, or broken by now, and this is no exaggeration: virtually every single male I grew up around is now dead. I’m not even totally certain why I survived. I know that I will love Mr. Mohammad, and honor him, all my life for what he gave me, and so many others.
Please remember the most important aspect of what I’m doing on this blog: exploring the question of balance. That is really all I’m doing. The idea doubtless has many flaws, and its application is difficult. But if a human being is anorexic or obese, think twice before you assume their reality map is more accurate than yours. If they cannot negotiate the territory of the human heart sufficiently to find a healthy human relationship, give their opinions a grain of salt. And if they cannot maintain financial solvency, reserve your right to question their opinions. And if they have two out of three of these problems, a little light should go on in your mind. Regard what they say with interest, respect, and always wonder why if they are so smart, they can’t handle these basic human issues. And if they are “blown out” in all three…be wary.Just as ANYONE whose opinions seem to come from only one, or primarily one side of the spectrum. I personally come from the position that human beings are roughly equivalent in their “hardware” although their software varies greatly. When I see people who are angry, violent, or dysfunctional, I ask myself what might have happened along the way that created such problems.Yes, there have been massacres and pogroms in the NAME of such egalitarian ideals…but not ever in their spirit. In the name of enforced equality, millions have been stripped of their rights, re-programmed, or slaughtered. But in my mind this was never actual egalitarianism. This was despotism hiding behind the mask of fraternity.

Still, I think even more egregious wrongs have been done by those who believe that human beings are strictly hierarchical. These almost always assume that they, personally, are part of the group that is “better,” and therefore obligated to make decisions for their more unfortunate brethren. Can you see how these two positions, egalitarianism and hierarchialism, ultimately lead to the same thing if they have no heart? If you cannot look into another and see the same humanity that you see in your own children? That road, Left or Right, is the path to hell. There are those who read this blog and speak of a middle way. Those are the ones closest to my own heart. I may be wrong to look at the world and ask how a reasonable, rational, good-hearted human being can do X or Y terrible thing, and how we might alleviate their fear to facilitate communication. But I believe that, over the course of my life, I have had to make far fewer adjustments in my attitude to fit new data than those who held the view that This or That group is inferior on the basis of religion, race, nationality, or politics. I’ll take my position. I can apply it to myself, my children, my friends, my enemies. I’ve used it to defuse violence, negotiate contracts, win lovers, and heal rifts, as well as to forgive myself for being the bonehead I often seem to be.I can live with that. As we enter what I pray will be a period of national healing, let’s demand that our leaders embrace balance rather than exclusion. Exclusion is what we’ve had for the last six years, during which America has experienced so many terrible jolts that I barely recognize the country I love. Let’s move beyond the polarizing fear, shall we? Let’s embrace a future more magnificent than our past. But it starts with each and every one of us being strong enough to love. That is what Steve Mohammad taught me. The finest, most lethal karate man I have ever known, he taught me that on the other side of true strength is gentleness. And wherever you see bluster, or dogmatism, or hatred, or prejudice, or rage…what you are really seeing is weakness, and fear.

Thank you, Steve.

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