#10Weeks Chapter 41: Mindfulness (Words as hands)

41

Mindfulness

Words as hands

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Bull. Words hurt just as easily as sticks and stones, and the wounds can persist and spread for generations.

They got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said,
‘We will serve you
if you will get us free from the prince.’
True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’
…But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.

Pat Robertson

Pastor Robertson made few friends in the Caribbean with his comment that 100,000 Haitian men, women and children died by earthquake and disease, and millions more were ruined…explicitly because the country sold its soul to the devil in the 18th Century. Of course, it’s likely his response to this would be that he doesn’t care whether he makes friends while doing the Lord’s work, because God tells him directly what to do, and “feel-good” is not a motivating factor. I hear that destructive dismissal from some of the holiest rollers in every religion.

It does strike me as very odd that God would create billions of people, then give all truth and wisdom to a few hundred, few thousand, or few hundred thousand. Does God want us to fight and mutilate one another? As Star Trek’s token Vulcan, Mr. Spock (who probably never believed in any deity anyway) would say, this is “illogical.”

I just wish Pastor Robertson would reference his sources. It’s a pretty specific accusation, with apparently non-specific sourcing. Did he witness this discussion with Satan first-hand? Or did some old guy who’d never been to Haiti tell him what he himself had once been told by some other old guy who’d never been there? My guess is it’s the latter. As for being “liked,” I agree that following one’s mission shouldn’t be driven by its popularity. Some of my own friends have asked to be removed from announcements about  this blog, so I know as well as anyone that you can’t please all the people all the time. But if the good preacher wants to serve in this world as directed by the Master described in the scripture we both follow, he should probably try out a little more open-heartedness to offset an apparent predisposition for casual condemnation. Nobody can do much good who sounds like a Pharisee/Church Lady.

You may remember the fury around the opening quote while public revulsion was still pulsating. I’m not digging it up for cheap drama, but to establish a premise. The “words can never hurt me” adage seems as bogus to me today as it did when I was a child, and for one inescapable reason: words can most definitely hurt. Granted, they may not break my bones like those pesky sticks and stones…but on the other hand, sticks don’t cut like a knife.

Pastor Robertson’s comment could be described as a “slap in the face” to merciful, compassionate humans everywhere. I suspect that to Haitians, his words feel more like a kick in the nuts.

It’s interesting to note how many of our expressions relate words to physical effects. I can “lift you up” with the right words, or I can “smack you down.” All without actually lifting a finger! My wife reminds me that words can “comfort” a child, just as if we held him. With a few well-chosen words I can close your eyes for slumber, or I can shake you awake.

Words play a big part in applying smart power. What we say to or about one another creates a perception as real as the physical monuments we raise with our hands. Words fashion an impression, and impressions flow into action.

When I hear such thoughtless obscenities as, “We should just bomb the Middle East into a glass parking lot,” I sometimes ask if the speaker would be willing to travel back there with me so he can pick out the first little girl to die under the first bomb. This rhetorical question often turns out to be a conversation killer.

In my various professional and extracurricular roles I’ve been physically struck many times. None of those blows, however, had the same effect as the (mercifully few) times when words have “floored” me like “a punch in the gut.” I’ve never been knocked out by getting slugged, but I have occasionally been “staggered” at hearing horrible news.

The right words can make the strongest man cry like a baby. My wife also points out that words can have a “crushing” effect or “break” a heart. Many professionals will recall having been “stabbed in the back” by an ill-intentioned colleague.

I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical about Pastor Robertson’s declaration that our all-merciful God mutilated thousands of babies because of a deal made by their government two centuries ago. I’d like to ask: would he be so eager to rationalize the infernos, tornados, earthquakes and other “acts of God” that periodically wrack our own country in the United States?

Since I understand he likes to teach from one book above all others—and since I happen to keep that same book right on my nightstand—I decided to crack it open and see what it says about caring for suffering people. I came upon the 12th verse of Colossians 3: “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Those words ring a little truer, I think, than a glib pronouncement that an entire nation is under murderous judgment. Pastor Robertson’s comment sounded more like Pastor Phelps than Jesus Christ. I can imagine the 12th verse of Colossians inspiring the tireless work of many hands, carrying hope instead of damnation to the hurting Haitian people. But I can only imagine our introductory quote (that all Haitians had it coming because of a discussion from generations before their births) leading to a paralyzing apathy about inconceivable human agony. I speculate that the Westboro Baptist Church people would cheerfully line up behind this message…but is that really the cheering section he wants to have?

I’d like to share one final group of words, extracted verbatim from an online forum discussing this unloving comment that a nation of men, women and children deserved to be destroyed for an ancient, probably mythological conversation by their government:

“I’m 13 and I use 2 go 2 church until my parents saw this. They panicked and didnt want me to end up like that….”

Is the loss of this lamb a success in the eyes of the shepherd who caused it?

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Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 39: Camaraderie (Surrounded by armed Turks!)

39

Camaraderie

Surrounded by armed Turks!

Armed Turkish soldiers encircled me, the solitary American. They moved closer, speaking their strange language. I was acutely aware that I had no weapon other than my own two hands. Abruptly, we all paused at the first sounds of a running machine gun battle closer to the center of Baghdad. That fight wasn’t far from my “hooch,” a half mile from where I stood…. 

Deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves.
What really matters is helping others win, too.
Fred “Mister” Rogers

@20 CH39 BLACKOUT VERSION Rob with Zhenya and Sasha

On the left of this photo is “Zhenya,” then-commander of Russia’s Spetsnaz (Special Forces).
I’m the grinning fool in the middle, and on the right is “Sasha,” his intelligence chief.

The above introductory incident is all true, but I’m pleased to report that I am neither dead nor captured. In fact, I’m very comfortably tucked in with a cup of gourmet coffee and a keyboard.

And now, The Rest of the Story:

In dozens of countries around the world I’ve been blessed to live among international forces. I have always explored their cultures with the curiosity of a child. In the early 1990’s, my assignment to Turkey lasted a year. (This was coincident with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but I won’t take credit for that one.)

I would drink chai in the tea gardens with best friend Hayri, that same long-suffering Turk whose mother had foisted the orange doily upon me during my first visit to their home. We would talk for hours about his father the imam (religious leader), the quality of carpets in Hayri’s rug shop and, all too often, about how horribly I had most recently offended nearby little old ladies with my inadvertent Turkish mispronunciations. (During the first months Hayri frequently had to hustle me off to various tea gardens to escape the scorching glares of victims of those linguistic drive-bys. Turkish has some very simple words that sound like sounds I quickly learned not to make.)

Years later, after losing contact, I learned that Hayri had also made his way into the military—also as a commando. He led a squad in the southeast against Kurdish fighters of the PKK, designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and other nations.

(I’ve got friends on both sides of this Kurdish question, so if you write to me to tell me how wrong the Turks are and how right the Kurds are, be forewarned: I will be receptive and understanding. One of my cutest snapshots of kids from around the world, in fact, is of little Kurdish waifs in their enclave outside a Turkish town.)

It’s funny how a gentle, small town preacher’s son would end up in my industry. It’s funny how people from across the entire human spectrum can come to be involved in violence against strangers. Our natural instincts to protect “our own” against dangerous “Others” expand to include institutional Us-vs-Them functions at the national level with militias and armies. We can be gradually taught to hate the “Red Menace” and become willing to “Kill a Commie for Mommy.” The other side learns to loathe the “capitalist pig.” (I imagine us eventually splitting down to the lowest common denominator and having seven billion independent states with names like “Larry” and “Elizabeth” replacing today’s Peru and Ireland.)

I once hosted the head of Russia’s version of our SOCOM (Special Operations Command) in my backyard for beer and hot dogs. We discussed how pleasant it was at that time to not be enemies for the time being. We also discussed how, should our international relationship degrade to war again, and we find ourselves face-to-face on some distant ridgeline…only the quicker trigger will walk away. Duty is like that.

Rewind to those armed Turks surrounding me in Baghdad. These were actually liaison officers from the Turkish Army, friends of mine, and not adversaries. They were hosting a “Hail and Farewell” party for a change of staff. They had invited me and a variety of international colleagues; I enjoyed speaking Russian with the Ukrainian and the Georgian, Turkish with the Azerbaijani and our hosts, some Arabic with the Jordanian, and English with the rest. Sure, I was unarmed, because at the time I was only working as an advisor in the palace headquarters of General Petraeus. (This was in two different offices of the palace, you understand. Completely different floors, actually.)

Also true is that, with these Turkish friends surrounding me, we paused the party and listened to a running machine gun battle a half mile away near my hooch…it was outside our base wall, but just barely. While this celebration of ours represented the harmony possible among a dozen very different partner nations, men were savagely killing each just other within earshot. While war raged on those ancient streets, “micro-globalization” in one tiny trailer in Baghdad, Iraq—or in one suburban backyard patio in Hawaii grilling hot dogs—showed a flicker of hope for the future of this race. It is one possible direction for the future of humanity…but it will not spontaneously occur; we will have to choose to act. We will have to choose camaraderie, or we won’t have it.

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Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 37: Tolerance (In defense of faith)

37

Tolerance

In defense of faith

Where did it come from, the rampant, wild-eyed tsunami of Islamophobia? In the U.S. we heard the refrain against Muslims: “They are waging a stealth jihad against America!” Across parts of Europe, nationalism reached a fever pitch.

Even though the world is divided by many particularisms,
we are united as a human community.
Kofi Annan

Islamophobia 2010 was clearly a reaction to the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque.” I won’t weigh in on that explosive debate in this brief chapter. The point is that the mosque war caused some unacceptable and ironic casualties against deeply-held American values called freedom of religion and respect for diversity.

Before you leap out of your breakfast nook and shout that I’m labeling that Islamic center a topic of “religious freedom,” let me reiterate: this is not about that facility. It’s about the fact that we jeopardized religious freedom because of a debate about religion.

My two-part response to The Question that The Muslims are Waging a Stealth Jihad against America:

Answer Part A) Yes…there is a stealth jihad underway.

Think about it: any group sophisticated enough to carry out the complex attack of 9/11 is smart enough to come at the problem (us) on multiple fronts. They told us who they are: al Qaeda. And AQ said it speaks for all of Islam.

Remember that Hitler said he spoke for all good Germans. Remember, too, that through the skillful manipulation of grievances and fears, he whipped up a fever pitch against another cultural-religious group, that he accomplished this through impassioned nationalism…and that the German language root for “nationalism” led to the term “Nazi.”

Answer Part B) No…it’s not “the Muslims” who are after “us,” any more than cop killer Eric Rudolph and his Christian supporters could be interpreted as proof that “the Christians” are out to murder abortion doctors.

Now think about this. If you identify yourself as Christian, do you also automatically consider yourself a member of “Christian Identity,” the movement that believes all non-Whites go to hell? Do you identify with Pastor Fred Phelps, the patently un-Christlike founder of the “Westboro Baptist Church” and its “God Hates Fags” movement? They have waved signs celebrating war deaths at military funerals and laughed at family members as they suffer in grief…this includes families of my fallen SEAL Teammates. I’ve communicated directly with members of the Phelps clan in hopes of comprehending the incomprehensible hatred of these self-described Christ followers. I’ve posted that dialogue, with permission, here at the blog for balanced peacemaking. Read it for a taste of Hitler’s hate speech from the 1930s and 40s. You’ll get a glimpse of a part of history that, if forgotten, we will be doomed to repeat. You can also read a sample of our Westboro “dialogue” in the next chapter, so jump up there if you’d like; but remember to come back here because there’s some good stuff ahead.

[Robnote: In posting this chapter I decided I needed to poke my head back into the Margie Phelps “dialogue” so I could reference it here. I will admit…that has been difficult for me. I had forgotten just how cruelly deranged she sounded in justifying the damage done to countless suffering young widows and small children. But I’m going to give you the direct link to that here, and at the bottom. I’d recommend you wait until you’ve completed this chapter before veering off to read my exchange with Margie…it’s long, and it’s disturbing.]

There are unsettling similarities between today’s warnings to WATCH OUT for Them-There Muslims and der Fuhrer’s earlier hysteria-laced speeches warning about the menace of Them-There Jews.

Remember your neighbors as human beings. Before 9/11 (committed by a tiny handful of radical, self-described Muslims), millions of Muslim Americans lived within a society that had overcome widespread suspicion about a global Jewish conspiracy (thanks, WWII!), a disgraceful era of state-sponsored segregation against blacks, and the surprising election of a Catholic as one of our most beloved presidents of all time. Muslims serve in the U.S. military and politics alongside Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists.

There is a difference between “Muslim” and “al Qaeda.” All AQ members call themselves Muslims, but very few Muslims want to be AQ.

I have read the entire Bible…twice. I’ve read the Torah, and I have read an English interpretation of the Qur’an. It’s good to understand what different people believe. (One uncomfortable factoid is this: most Christians haven’t read the Bible from cover to cover.) All these stories are similar. Each faith appeals to the soul through the language and culture of its adherents.

Some challenge the claim that Islam is a religion of peace. They say it’s not like Christianity because it’s full of violence. Hang on a second while I look through the scriptures of my own religion…ah, here it is! Joshua 6:21, in summing up the delightful story of God’s explicitly-choreographed, ruthless and gory conquest of Jericho: “They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old….” [Italics mine.] There’s more about genocide and mandated violence in there. Much more. And for those contemporary Christians who argue that the Old Testament doesn’t “count” any more, since it was replaced by Jesus’ ministry, I ask: is it part of our Holy Bible, or not? If it no longer applies, then what motivates today’s condemnation of Old Testament “abominations?” If it does still provide mandatory instruction, why aren’t those rules universally applied within the church?

An impartial reading of Leviticus, a book shared by both Jewish and Christian traditions, reveals fundamental laws not very unlike those of Islamic “sharia.” Yet “creeping sharia” alone raises howls of protest in some segments of society. We ought to fish or cut bait on the Old Testament question. Nothing creates well-deserved bemusement and incredulity from outsiders like apparent hypocrisy and double standards within the church.

This appeal is not intended to raise Islam above Christianity, or vice-versa. I’m merely asking that we pause in our daily drama to consider where each of our fellow humans is really coming from. I do believe in God, and I do believe God made us all. I’m also pretty sure that each of us is flawed and sees only a small part of the whole picture. A friend once described religion as a “spiritual metaphor,” a tool that helps us define the indefinite. I like that idea very much. The problem arises when this tool, laid down through forms of revelation and tradition and innovation, is confused to be “all” that can be said or thought about God and God’s intentions. Not one of us is big enough, brothers and sisters, to declare that we individually hold all of God’s truth. I suspect God finds our presumption either very amusing, or very irksome.

During one great cigar-enabled conversation with my SEAL friend Dave Brayden, he put the whole thing into perspective with a clarity (and brevity) that I lack: “It was easier when we were kids. We watched the cowboy movies and the news, and they were the same—we always knew who was wearing the Black Hat. Someone has to wear the Black Hat.”

Let’s search our hearts humbly before slapping the Black Hat onto a billion of the world’s people.

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As promised, here’s the link again to my exchange with Fred Phelps’ daughter and heir apparent to the Family of Hatred, Margie:

Comprehending the incomprehensible hatred of Westboro’s God Hates Fags “Church”

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Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 35: Exclusion (Are you with us or against us?)

35

Exclusion

Are you with us or against us?

On the occasion of being mildly assaulted by a fellow American who thought I was “just” a local Arab in the Middle East…. Our inherited, status quo thinking pattern about the value of others can create perpetual, self-inflicted misery.

We have kept on because we strive for harmony and community,
a community not only of the living but also one that honors our forebears.
This link to the past gives us a sense of continuity, a sense that we have created,
and create, societies that are meant to be for the greater good
and try to overcome anything that subverts our purpose.
Our wars end; we seek to heal.
Desmond Tutu

Powerful Peace is apolitical. I want that to be understood before initiating the following sensitive discussion.

The title of this chapter is not a criticism against President George W. Bush for using similar, strong words immediately following 9/11. Neither is it an endorsement of his comment, which should simply be considered in the context of that terrible and historic time.

This is a story about a man who bumped—no, slammed—into me at the airport in Kuwait.

In a bizarre turn of events, I was moving with a group of Americans through a crowded terminal and found myself momentarily blocked by a second man, who was being momentarily impeded by a third. It was a simple people-jam, and would resolve within seconds. In profile, the bearded man just in front of me looked surprisingly like my Egyptian friend Kamy (remember the chapter, Context 3?), but at that moment I was thinking the odds of this being Kamy were statistically impossible.

My musing was abruptly interrupted by what can only be described as a low-impact, hockey-style body check by the American behind me, as he literally bounced my 220-pound frame out of the way so he could hurry to catch up to the group. I kept my cool (probably not as well as I like to think) and followed close behind. Once I caught up I got in his face and said, “We’re all going to the same place. There’s no reason to slam into anyone!”

He looked thoroughly surprised at the American English coming from my own shaggy beard, and began to apologize. Unfortunately, the apology was even more unacceptable than the initial body slam.

“I’m really sorry, dude. I didn’t realize you were with us!”

I was stunned by this response.

With us?

What the hell difference would that make?

With us??

I knew that by “us” he meant the American group (I wasn’t “just some local Arab”). I could have taken the apology for what it was worth—despite the stink of blatant (and probably unconscious) bigotry. But this brief encounter is an invaluable teaching point for Powerful Peace, so it swirled in my mind until I could return to the keyboard and write down this lesson: There is no “us.”

Of course, there are blacks and whites, men and women, Jews and Muslims and Christians…that’s not what I’m saying. All these distinctions are part of the natural, healthy, perfect mosaic of what it means to be complementary pieces of the human race. The point is that there is no “us” in the context of his apology. Us-and-Them thinking deserves to go on the discard pile of useless history alongside its evil cousins, slavery and genocide.

You see, what the American did in that crowd was to define, by deed, his own counterproductive understanding of We and They. Without a word, he demonstrated that he finds it acceptable to smash into Them to get where he wants to go, but not into Us, the group of which I happen to be a member.

“They” don’t deserve respect, and “We” do. It seems to be that simple.

While this occurrence is offensive enough at first glance, the deeper and much more profound effect ripples outward and begs to be examined.

When a person behaves like that in a place like that, the locals very reasonably find it intolerable. While they may not confront the offender as I did, they inevitably file it away in memory. When on a different occasion another visitor behaves in a similar manner, resentment grows. At some point a prejudice is formed against my entire group. A prime example comes with the term, “Ugly American,” which must be based on a long series of unacceptable events. Such a widespread reputation didn’t cross the globe because of one or two isolated incidents.

Some such events are harsh and widespread. Others are more subtle and confined, like this example from my own editor: Rob was in Moscow in 1996 with his wife and newly adopted, Russian-born daughter. They happened upon other American couples who were also seeking to adopt children in need of loving homes. The group invited Rob and his family to join them at Pizza Hut (a by-product of glasnost and perestroika) in order to “get away from this awful Russian food.” Rob was appalled. His family had experienced three weeks of ORH (“Overwhelming Russian Hospitality”) and sacrifices including wholesome, farm-fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, which Rob’s wife Virginia called “to die for.” More appalling was that the group’s inconsiderate invitation was made in front of Rob’s Russian translator, Olga, a fluent English speaker. Sensing Olga’s hurt feelings, Rob turned to her and said, “Ugly Americans! We have some, you know,” then whisked Olga and his family off to more respectful surroundings.

The upshot of this dynamic is that, when I again pass through such a “culturally contaminated” area, my own experience will be unavoidably colored by the attitudes of these prejudiced locals. I may get poor service; I may be harassed; I may even be assaulted by some of the more hot-headed youths. No matter how effective my usual efforts to “get along” in every environment, they may be overcome by the thoughtless, offensive choices of others.

This threat extends also toward the safety and peace of mind of my spouse, my child, and other companions….

Most stupidly of all, even that bigot’s future experience in that place will be impacted by his past behavior.

We each need to get better at considering the potential consequences of our choices. We are an amazing race, the humans. Our species has the capacity for infinite, creative genius…and yet even the dumbest dog won’t defecate where he sleeps.

By the way, in case you were still wondering: yes, it was Kamy in front of me in line. I met up with him and had a great talk a half hour later.

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Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 34: Duality (And)

34

Duality

And

“Balanced budget.” “Balanced breakfast.” …Balanced peacemaking. What is it about this simple word? Balance is important to economics, medicine, athletics, academics, governance, and every other aspect of the human experience. So why is it so hard to practice?

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless,
and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.
Samuel Johnson

Pop quiz:

According to doctors, which is an essential component of healthy weight loss: diet, or exercise? Great, you got it right: diet and exercise.

According to advisors, which is an important part of financial health: saving more, or spending less? Right: saving more and spending less.

Why should it be any different with interpersonal or international relations? Balance is necessary, and the operative balancing concept is And.

In the world today we find incidents of horrifying and inexplicable violence…and I don’t have to be sitting in Iraq to tell you about it. In 2009 a hateful old white man carried a gun into the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC and gunned down a young, black guard in the prime of life. This victim, eulogized as a kind and gentle giant, had sworn to defend the lives of strangers at the risk of his own. He was murdered for being born a certain color, or for protecting a Jewish memorial, or for both.

The young man’s fellow officers responded appropriately. They returned fire, critically wounding the murderer and eliminating a threat to everyone else present.

Regular readers of our Powerful Peace ASP blog are familiar with the following scenario: U.S. soldiers in a war zone, handing out candy to local children, are approached by a nervous young man in a bulging coat. The soldiers escalate through the “force protection” procedures demanded by military authorities (Shout, Show your weapon, Shove…and only then Shoot); yet he begins running toward the group.

A soldier puts a bullet through the young man’s head. He falls, dead on the spot. As security forces investigate the scene, they discover that he was in fact concealing a shrapnel-filled explosive vest. If he had reached the gathering and detonated, soldiers and children alike would have been torn to pieces.

From such accounts, the occasional need for the “hardest” power of full kinetic action is apparent. Without necessary violence, much greater suffering of innocents would have followed. In this case, “And” included the use of deadly force.

The soft power of example and attraction is as necessary to balanced relationships as the capacity for force. Indeed, it is more powerful, because modeling compels and convinces more genuinely than coercion.

One of the best media examples of duality is clearly labeled as such. In the Vietnam war movie Full Metal Jacket (Warner Bros., 1987), Private Joker is challenged by a Marine colonel for wearing a peace symbol button and having “Born To Kill” scrawled on his helmet.

Joker: “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.”

Colonel: “The what?”

“The duality of man. The Jungian thing, Sir.”

“Whose side are you on, son?”

This exchange continues for a few lines, at the end of which the colonel confidently declares, “It’s a hardball world, son. We’ve gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over.”

And is a very important tool in our kit for connecting both likes and dislikes. And speaks to our similarities as much as to our contrasts. At the very least, And demonstrates a link between two ideas or people and a chance for change. It shows what we are…and what we may become.

It says such things as, “I hate and revile you.”

It can also say, “I used to think thus and so…and now I think differently.”

Such a tiny word. Such profound meaning.

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Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 31: Duty (War heroes on war)

31

Duty

War heroes on war

You will hear it time and again. Those who survive war, whether behind the gun or in front of it, have a unique loathing for this uniquely terrible human process.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can,
only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

UzbekOperators

Some of my warrior friends from Uzbekistan. We discovered upon arrival that I could teach tactics in three languages.
These officers spoke English, and most soldiers spoke Russian…the village boys spoke only Uzbek, however,
and Turkish sufficed for basic commands. (You can see by his stance the man on the far left is a Russian fighter.)
(This is also one of the few photos you can find of me without a beard.)

Because much of our race’s history has been bloodied and ravaged by war, much has been said about war. As with Ike’s opening quote, a lot of “anti-war” rhetoric has been voiced not by pacifist refuseniks, but by the greatest practitioners of the killing industry.

General Douglas MacArthur, for example, declared that “The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “War is a profane thing.”

Even President George Washington is quoted as having said, “My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”

Yikes. Hating war? Praying for peace? Scars? Profane? Plague? Do some of our most accomplished and courageous warriors better deserve a title of “peace dove?” Are they afraid of a good fight?

I don’t think so. I would argue, as General MacArthur suggests, that those who have devoted their bodies and minds to the field have developed a healthy aversion to opening this Pandora’s Box because they understand how high the actual price really is. Think it’s about an action star holding dual machine guns and shooting at National Guardsmen? Think again. That’s a movie. It’s really about little girls, families and towns being ripped apart.

It’s about how to establish peace; when to use force; where to apply the lessons of history in a balanced, powerful, heartening way. Let’s start with some labels: The term “peace dove” generally implies a pacifist, or peacenik, and a “war hawk” is an ardent proponent of war readiness and use. To keep this artificially simple, let’s picture a hippie and a soldier…yet Eisenhower, MacArthur, Schwarzkopf and, atop the list of soldiers of renown, Washington, all condemned this thing called war.

These great leaders make it apparent that we don’t need to compulsively label individuals as either Peace Doves or War Hawks at all. Some sitting at home in front of the boob tube may feel an awesome courage and willingness to pull a trigger—or rather, have someone else pull a trigger—to achieve a quick end to a distant and irksome problem. Others, understandably distressed by the terrible human cost and with the best of intentions, may fight so strongly against fighting that it interferes with readiness and paradoxically puts us at greater risk. These are very real extremes in the debate on force. Sadly, the debate often turns away from finding the best solution and toward “beating” the opposing philosophical camp. When reasonable pursuit for solutions is abandoned to political maneuvering, we fail in our duty to protect at our full capacity.

Perhaps, as you’ve been reading, you’ve begun to understand that every challenge is an opportunity to be met with courage and creativity according to its unique circumstances. We must be ready to use force whenever necessary, but exhaust all other measures first. When we hear our Commander In Chief say, “Force is the final option,” we need to know this is not some act or token statement. We need assurance that it comes from both vision and heart and reflects the best judgment of the warriors and diplomats advising.

Perhaps we need a new kind of actor in the world of conflict. Perhaps we need a global network of citizens and groups and governments that pursues not a perpetual either-or debate, but a more useful balance of readiness with restraint. I founded the Peace Hawks in hopes of providing such a forum. There is a wide range of medical, humanitarian, citizen diplomacy, poverty and related organizations already serving peace worldwide. Each does important work and affects its little pocket of the world of need. When we better integrate these, and better tie in various national military, diplomatic and administrative powers, we better fulfill our duty—and fewer efforts run counter to positive intentions.

Face it. War hurts. War hurts men and women whose flesh and bone are torn by bullets. It hurts little old ladies and little old men. It hurts children profoundly to experience the horrifying shrieks of rockets, shrapnel…and to witness men and women being torn. It hurts for a child to simply go without food in a shattered land. And when a child is hurt, our common future is hurt.

Hurting all these people (or rather, permitting all these people to be hurt) by casually indulging in force reaps a corresponding harvest of ill will and cyclic violence that always returns to its source. “What goes around comes around,” they say, and nowhere is this more evident than in the area of retaliation.

Please don’t hijack my words to claim support for any particular “peace” or “security” movement. It is not an endorsement of any “side,” and especially not for those least-effective “sides” at the extreme ends of any debate. This is also not an indictment of any administration, military service, government agency, political party or commercial venture.

If it is any indictment at all, it is an indictment against all of us, together; against anyone who has any say (and in a democracy each adult does) in our way ahead as a global society.

This is intended to communicate impartial, universal ideals and ideas that need to be spread. Please spread them! Ordinary citizens have power to influence the way of their nations and of the world. A condition of enduring security is not a matter for security professionals, policy makers or military leaders alone. It’s a result of the conscious involvement of every person, in the way one acts and speaks…and considers consequences.

It is the duty of each of us. It begins in the Mind that is hungry to understand. It continues in the Heart that is open and compassionate. It touches the Soul, which we will touch on in the final section of this book. And it reaches the universal conclusion that if we truly want to “Let there be peace on earth,” each of us must commit to “Let it begin with me.”

In the end, why should some of us sweat and bleed in the training hall? Why should some be so good at putting bullets where they will do the most harm? Is this a cruel and warlike outlook on life?

To answer this, I’ll defer once again to a great man whose failure would have cost not only his own life and holdings, but the very existence of a nation which now has so much to offer to the world: President Washington.

“To be prepared for War is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”

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Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 30: Family (Heart is where the home is)

30

Family

Heart is where the home is

I sincerely wish you peace, joy, and prosperity. May you have a home to live in every day of your life. It’s not such a strange wish to offer these days, is it? Such difficult times. So many suffering, out of doors, at home and abroad. Take a moment and whisper a prayer for their safety and shelter…or, if needed, for yourself.

Acting is just a way of making a living; the family is life.
Denzel Washington

As I wrote this chapter in our cozy dining room, a steaming cup of liquid inspiration (coffee) close at hand and a beautiful blanket of snow draping the house, my wife was sympathizing on the phone with a lady who would soon be officially homeless. My wife, a living saint who is incapable of turning her back on any stray (yours truly included), would be “plussing up” by three cats our current stock of canines, felines and assorted rodentia. This, so three beloved pets won’t go under the needle when this lady would be evicted the next day…in the days before Christmas. While the lady herself would be able to move into a shelter, animals would not be welcome at her next residence.

I pray that you will have a home to live in for the next 365 days.

Across Iraq and Afghanistan, my own alternate homes for many years, the vast majority of houses are built of stone and mortar. In most of the cities (outside of the universal, sprawling slums housing the poor), dwellings are tidy, spare reflections of the generally barren landscape seen for miles around. Yet these austere buildings hold some of the warmest, most loving families to be found anywhere on our planet.

Therefore it is not “What” the home is, in my opinion, but “Who.”

Once during a year living in the north of Turkey, I visited the simple, brick-and-concrete house of my dear friend Hayri (you’ll remember him from the chapter on Understanding.) His mother welcomed me as a new son, sparing no expense. And this is identical, by the way, to the generosity I’ve received in the homes of Americans, Russians, Omanis, Afghans, Japanese, Iraqis, and a host of other good people worldwide.

On this particular visit, I made the amateur mistake of admiring a simple, orange doily that Hayri’s mother had crocheted. In less than one minute I was the proud, if somewhat perplexed, owner of that same orange doily, now neatly wrapped for transport. This was my first of many experiences with OMEH (Overwhelming Middle Eastern Hospitality). Resistance was futile; Hayri later told me I’m lucky I hadn’t admired his Mom’s furniture first.

The home can be a place of startling kindness, or it can contain staggering cruelty. Don’t judge a nook by its cover.

The most civilized of properties sometimes host the most unimaginable evil. Witness Josef Fritzl, the Austrian father who shackled, enslaved, raped, and seven times impregnated his own daughter over an uninterrupted, twenty-four year stay in his private basement dungeon. Researching this story, I was astounded to learn that he even incinerated the corpse of one of his own infant children/grandchildren to avoid discovery.

Contrast this horror to the boundless sacrifice of countless parents in famine-stricken nations, who sometimes starve to death themselves in order to share the tiniest crumbs of food and save their children.

It ain’t what—it’s who.

In Powerful Peace, you’ve read about the importance of seeking out common ground in the quest to reduce conflict and violence. What more common ground is there than the home itself? Whether snow-blanketed like mine, or shaken by war like those of my friends, this simple societal framework (literally and rhetorically speaking) has commonality written on it from Santa’s workshop to Admiral Byrd’s porta-potty on the South Pole.

In millions of homes on every continent, husbands and wives celebrate their blissful union…and quickly discover things to fight about. Children of every hue are born into homes on every terrain. Loved ones die, family cultures are renewed, and there’s almost never enough money to do everything we want.

Through it all, the calendar trudges faithfully along. Seasons come and go. Life in the home, ever dynamic, remains fundamentally and appreciably unchanged, forever. I’ve long heard it said that “home is where the heart is,” and as a man who’s been everywhere else I know it to be true for me. But I also know that whoever I meet, wherever I meet him, remembers some special place, too. It might have looked, sounded and felt very different from mine. It might have been on the other side of the planet.

Home is a piece of dirt, somewhere in the world. But it is also a very real, very lasting piece of a person’s life. If I disdain this person’s home, I have disdained him. When I honor his unique origins, I have honored him…and I have made some little step of progress for both our lives.

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Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!