I am watching the events of the day.
What I see has a lot to do with where I'm sitting. I'm sitting in the lap of comfort, during a decade of life that is offering opportunity, delight, health, and shalom (a sense of completeness). I am surrounded by love, freedom, education. Today, I am going to the Ohio State Fair.
I am constantly aware that I am one of few humans, part of a rare generation in the history of our species, to not have had to personally lift arms to defend our way of life. To be sure, some of my contemporaries have borne the burden. To them I am grateful. And to myself, I am aware that I have not had to battle. All my battles have been intellectual.
A Current Battle
As I watch the events of the day — the defense of Israel is front and center — I sometimes speak out. When I do, here are some responses:
- Why are you so vehement? (Because I care deeply, I am passionate.)
- Why are you unquestioning of your own position? (I am not. I question authority. Including my own.)
And sometimes the response is:
And sometimes the response is:
- bombastic vitriol.
I shrink from bombastic vitriol.
When my inner BV Meter registers language that is hateful, aggressive, demanding, I fall silent. When I am at my best.
When I was young (≤53), I would match bombast with bombast. I would argue my side. I am good — good, not great — at arguing my side. But arguing rarely — almost never — results in progress. My arguing is good enough to convince myself, but not great enough to convince the other to agree with me. So argument is almost always unsatisfying.
What is diplomacy?
We all believe in the efficacy of diplomacy. But we use it sparingly, only when we think it will work. We calculate before its application. It is invested in adversaries who are potential collaborators. It seems wasted on adversaries who are incorrigibly hateful.
We make that decision before taking each next step.
Is diplomacy appeasement and capitulation? Or is diplomacy bellicosity and exclusion?
Here are two resources for further study:
- “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.” ― Winston Churchill
- "Diplomacy: Speaking To The Enemy," The Economist, May 22, 2008. "Sometimes it makes sense; sometimes it doesn't; sometimes not talking can be appeasement."
I can talk to anyone. I know people who cannot talk to the other side.
I am comforted by Robert Frost's definition of education: "Being able to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self confidence."
Then again, I limit my intake of others' anger. I unfriend those who express themselves with anger at the wind. They seem to wake up angry each day. (Some of their anger is, no doubt, justified. Some things should make us angry. Where is our righteous indignation over injustice?) But anger 24/7? Not for me. It makes me sad.
Recently, we brought television back into our home after a 20-year fast. (The hypocrisy police will note that the fast was imperfect. We watched movies. And some classic old shows. But I don't think you know many folks who know less about what's on television.) The return of television temporarily increased the daily diet of anger, vitriol, bombast, sarcasm, cynicism, and hateful rhetoric — even when the voice agrees with my politics.
So I'm stepping away again, stepping away to peace: one of the great gifts of not having a television.
I remain open.
Now that I'm older (54), I have come to trust my own silence. I listen. I am becoming increasingly diplomatic. I stand in wonderment: what will the other say next?
I speak up. But I choose my opportunities. And I work to retain my equanimity.