The Grand Illusion

It’s difficult to organize thoughts this morning after the election, but I have been getting some thoughtful words on Facebook and from friends that I think are important to express right now.   In discussion with a friend I was saying how Trump was never really successful at anything in life and his success is built solely on the illusion of his brand.  My friend responded “well isn’t that a sign of success?”  As much as it hurt to admit I think he’s right.   He has sold America an illusion, and America bought it.  He isn’t going to build a wall, he can’t bring coal jobs back, he isn’t going to magically fix inner cities, he isn’t going to make America great again.  Especially consider nobody really knows what that means, and how we define greatness is highly subjective.  We went on to discuss this illusion and how Trump’s illusion is really America’s.  Once again I couldn’t help but agree.  I’ve been mulling this thought over for a few hours and really makes sense.

America has branded itself over the years.  The country that can’t fail.  The country that does it right, and that other countries should look to as a model of freedom and democracy.  We sell the American Dream, and people believe in it, even though we have been struggling to deliver that for some time.  And when I say we’ve bought into it, I am talking about all of us to varying degrees.  We’ve even convinced many people outside the U.S. that this is the case. But it is an illusion as grand as the Trump brand.  We aren’t perfect and we’ve got a lot of problems.  There are other countries out there who are doing things better than we are.  We spend more time convincing other countries that we are the strongest and the best, and less time giving our own people something substantive to believe this is the case.  Obama called us the greatest nation on Earth.  Where is the humility?  Hillary referred to half of the voting population as deplorables.  How extreme is that righteousness?  Those of us who see behind the veil of Trump’s brand to what he really is, convinced ourselves that there would be no way Trump could be elected.  I included.  As a nation we have made some great progress at social justice and equality, but we’ve also let far too many people fall into poverty, we had some poorly executed and designed policy, even if well-intentioned.  We’ve made some terrible foreign policy decisions that has cost us money and lives.  And all these things are excusable, but we also refuse to admit it.  Why?  Because we are the greatest nation on Earth.

I believe that to earn that title, we need to have empathy, we need to have courage, and we need to have humility.  We also need to have honest introspection.  We have to create our sense of self-worth over substantive matters.  We have to demonstrate that we are as capable of celebrating our successes as well as admitting and learning from our failures.  These are the values that make for great people, and great nations.  I’m not sure any nation can be said to be there, but some are closer than others.  We have further to go than we’d like to believe, and I hope that in these next 4 years we can break through this illusion and find a way to heal a divided nation.   Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans for not reaching across the aisle.  That’s the beginning of the humility we all need to have.  All of us regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation are human.  That’s the love we need to have.  And then we have to ask “How can I live my life so that it helps raise all humans up?”  That’s the courage we need to have.  And we need to keep at these qualities, everyday of our life, because hate, self-righteousness, and fear are always with us, waiting to shake us fragile humans to our core.

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Life on the Line

In a recent Facebook discussion, we talked about the value of occupations where people put their life on the line.  This of course arose out of a conversation about the currently chaotic situation involving the police and the Black Lives Matter movement.  A friend of mind said he leaned towards siding with police because they lay their lives on the line every day.  Many people feel this way and it is oft used to not only build respect towards police officers, but also people in the military.

On one hand there is certainly courage getting up each day, knowing this could be a day you die…or rather a higher than normal percentage for the average citizen.  Of course the average cop may have as good of odds as the average person who grows up in inner city areas that have a high crime and murder rate.  That aside I agree that it still takes courage, but the stress of such a situation is likely not healthy without a good deal of treatment to deal with the stress.  That kind of stress is likely to make you more likely to take less chances in any given interaction with the citizenry to protect your own life.  Particularly in areas where there is a lot of crime, and for a job which doesn’t pay that well given the cost of your life.

On the other hand, one wonders what compels someone to choose that line of work?  Do people say…”I really want to put my life on the line every day and be a cop or join the military, protecting people?”  I am sure some of them do.  Such nobility does exist.  But I am sure there are plenty of reasons that come into play as well.  Some may join because they can’t afford or don’t want to go to college.  For the military, some may join for the opportunity to go to college, or the job opportunities that will be more plentiful upon graduation.  Many join the military simply as a way to get out of poverty.  Other factors may come into play, like trying to escape an abusive or dysfunctional household, doing it because your father and/or brother(s) did it.  Other less noble reasons could also exist like just wanting the respect that comes with the uniform, picturing yourself as some action hero not even thinking about the consequences of you doing or wanting that instant authority over people.  This has always been the trouble I have had with simply thinking of all cops or military personnel as noble heroes for being willing to lay down their life for others, because it’s unclear to me how much of this courage really factors into their decision to do the job.

wash-ham_memeBut they do, do the job.  At the end of the day isn’t that all that matters?  Perhaps, but if laying down your life, whatever your initial intentions were make you a person with courage then such courage should also be bestowed on all people who have dangerous jobs.  And there are such jobs even though they in no way are protecting other people.  People who are loggers, fishers, and roofers come in the top 3.  Here is a list of the top 20 most dangerous professions per capita (Police come in at 15).  We also must then laud all those who lay their life down for a cause.  This then includes your rebels, your gangs, your suicide bombers.  This people also risk their life, sometimes end their lives for a cause they believe in.  I think we can agree that this is not the type of person we want to elevate to nobility.  Of course it is the values they hold, the values they fight for, the goodness that they protect.  So if we can’t guarantee the motivations of all people who don the uniform, if there are more dangerous professions, and if what makes someone is a hero is the values they represent, it seems to me like “laying down one’s life” isn’t an overly relevant reason to elevate one to a position of automatic respect.

But you may say, “Big talk person with blog, but would you be willing to do the same?”.  And I think it’s a fair question to ask and it’s also an important question I think to ask one’s self.  “Is there a cause for which I’m willing to die for?”  I certainly think I have the courage for it, but I know for me the death part isn’t what would hold me back.  If there was truly no other way besides carrying a gun to solve the problem, then it is my passion that would override my fear of death, at least initially.  It would simply feel like the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.  What I will say is that I am definitely capable of making a mistake, and possibly a deadly one.  Dying to me is quite honestly less scary than taking the life of someone who did feel I deserve it.  Had I shot Tamir Rice.  I would be wishing myself dead, and if they didn’t lock me up, I’d quickly turn in my badge.  Because, how are you going to live with that?

Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids.  Values to die and live for.
Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids. Values to die and live for.

When it comes the situation between cops and blacks in the U.S., all I can say is that there is definitely racism in the justice system, and most cops are simply doing their best.  They see the worst of society and the see it every day.  There is no question this wears on them, and there is no question in changes the brain.  But so does poverty and racism.  The key is I think is to reach out to all those who need help.  You don’t have to lay down your life to support the police and black people.  Things have to change or a lot more people are going to die and those are the lives we all need to work together to save.

The Heart of the Matter

I was listening to another episode of the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain this morning and it rekindled something that often comes into my mind when tragic events happen and this the act of forgiveness.  This podcast was extremely interesting because they were talking with a researcher who was studying forgiveness by collecting data and interviewing people in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of their civil war.  It is a unique situation because after they democratically elected a new government people who were on separate sides of a conflict were in the same communities, and even neighbors.  You could be living next to somebody who cut off your hand, raped or killed a family member.  What happened in that country is truly horrific, and no side was necessarily worse than the other. People were allowed to go back to their lives unpunished by the new government (with perhaps the exception of certain leaders).  In the main story that they follow in the podcast the play excerpts of an interview with two men who were friends before the civil war and when one was captured by the rebels he was made to do horrific things. He came across his friend and the rebels wanted him beat his friend, and he would not do it, and so they shot at him injuring him and told them that if he didn’t he would be killed.  Fearing for his life he did as they asked, and then asked him to kill his friend’s father.  He also ended up doing that in fearing for his life.

I am going to stop there before I going into the aftermath.  Right now some of you are judging the friend harshly who killed his friend’s father.  Some of you feel extreme anger towards the adult rebels who would ask a youth to do this and some of you are just lost in sorry for the pain and anguish that both of these boys must have felt.  You are maybe thinking what you would do in the same situation.  You are thinking about it rationally and cooly.  Let me say first that whatever decision you are making right now, may not be the decision you would make in the moment.  And I think the most important thing that you should think about is that you never want to have to face this situation.  Fear, when facing our own depth makes us capable of much more than we think.  Sometimes horrific acts.

Now the question you have to ask yourself is how forgiving do you feel right now?  And if you can forgive, how much should we expect those who were in that particular situation to forgive?  The podcast asks the question, how does one move forward from such atrocities after neighbor has been set against neighbor?

The way Sierra Leone has dealt with this in trying to stitch their society back together is that all over the country they have reconciliation ceremonies in communities where people stand face to face with people who have done harm to them personally or friends or family members.  They confront each without physical violence.  There is confession and ask for forgiveness.  And forgiveness often happens, because those who are willing to take part in the ceremony want to be able to forgive.  When following up on those who had taken part in the ceremony and when forgiveness happened they found those people were more productive in their community.  They made friends easier, they helped others in their community, more participation in politics and ensuring a positive political future and were more conscious of social justice issues.  It all sounds pretty great.  Forgiveness is a powerful part of healing and there is no psychological study that I know of that recommends holding on to anger and exacting revenge.  Many think it will bring peace, but it does not.  But if forgiveness is the better way, why do we have such a hard time doing it?  Already there are a number of you who are thinking that you could not forgive in such situations as described earlier.

It turns out that the downside of these people who participate in these reconciliation ceremonies is that while society at large gains, the individual suffers.  The act of forgiveness requires a great deal of courage because in that confrontation with a person who caused you harm you must also confront your pain.  You must relive the trauma, the memories, and those horrific images.  Individuals report greater depression and other symptoms of PTSD.  The researcher’s recommendation is that the act of forgiveness needs to be followed by individualized mental health treatment.  It makes a lot of sense.  In addition to the obvious reminder about the importance of mental health it revealed to me that ultimately to truly overcome pain that we experience requires a confrontation within ourselves.  As hard as it may be for two people stand face-to-face in these reconciliation ceremonies, it’s even harder to face the pain with in us.  Perhaps this is why people choose not to forgive and seek external solutions so they don’t have to deal with that pain and never find that path to peace.  Anger, addiction, or just disciplined suppression are all hallmarks of those who cannot forgive and this generally leads to more pain for others and cycles of conflict and violence continue.  I say this without judgment, because no matter how rational my thought process is right now, I cannot know how I would react in the face of extreme fear, and extreme pain.  I find it hard to blame others for not being able to forgive, and I don’t blame people for being angry when they experienced trauma and pain.

shaw_trc_moyambaAs I’ve said to others in the past, the most powerful part of the message of Jesus Christ has always been about the power of forgiveness and that if there is something to believe in, it’s redemption.  The good news from the story told in the podcast is that those two men are once again friends.  I am sure there are times when it is not easy.  The one who killed his friend’s father helps the other plant his crops as he was injured during the civil war.  There are no quick solutions I am sure for them but both are clearly on a path to peace and healing and a chance for a new generation to not have to face the horrors they faced.  And maybe that’s the best reason to be courageous and forgive.  Maybe our own wounds will still burst open from time to time and cause us pain, but maybe we can keep that pain out of future generations.  Because when we act outwardly on our pain and harm others the suffering it causes as pain ripples outwards into their loved ones makes your wound everybody’s wound.  And in I’m not saying it’s all easy but as a people we need to get better about supporting paths that lead to peace.  Especially those of us who have been fortunate enough to not have such events happen in our lives. We need to help people confront the pain that tears through their soul and teach them how they can overcome it.  Forgiveness has value in the face of hurt and harm in whatever form it comes in.  We need to give compassion without judgment and replace despair with hope.

What Makes A Good Human?: Final Thoughts

I will try not to make this too lengthy, but this series has been a journey writing it and I felt a more holistic summation was in order.

One of the things that occurred to me that I was writing it was that was I sounding too much of a person of privilege in my posts.  I certainly felt like that at times.  If I could say one more thing about what makes a good human might also be luck.  The country I was born in, the parents I got, the extended family, that were very loving, and of course my wife and friends all played a role in making me what I am, and for giving me the time and freedom to ruminate, contemplate, learn the right lessons from my experiences for me to even be able to write this.  Of course luck isn’t really in our control, and perhaps it is who we are that draw at least some of the people into our life and keep them there.  But there are those who are born to parents who stifle their curiosity. When does the parent or parents who work long hours to provide for their children find the time for curiosity themselves or get a chance to play?  There are those who spoil their children rotten and make them prideful and without humility.  What of those who struggle about even what to put their faith in, fearing a repetition of past mistakes?  I was thinking about how would a person who lived in the inner city slums of Mumbai, or Rio find solitude?  And then of course what about those who have clinical psychological conditions like narcissism and thus are excessively self-centered?  How does the psychopath learn empathy when physically incapable of it?  While there may be some solutions to this, early recognition and special nurturing techniques are often necessary and so my words in this series may be nothing more than the words of someone who has, overall, had it pretty good.

One positive thing I have noticed in my life is that none of these qualities however belong to any one specific class, race, culture or region.  I have seen the poorest with the least reason to be generous and compassionate be more so than those with the means to bring more good into this world than they do.  And I have seen the busiest parents with little time for play themselves, make those sacrifices simply so that their children have that advantage.  Life is dynamic, and always changing.  Some qualities we may have to put to the side to move past a certain point where we can bring them back.  It would be idealistic to say we can have these qualities at all times, and in all places.  And while it would be nice if it were so, such utopian fantasies should never occupy our thoughts for too long.

If asked who I wrote this all for, I would say firstly for me.  That in itself may sound self-centered, but I desire to become more than I am always, and this journey has helped me greatly in recognize the areas in my life where I might know how I should be in theory, but haven’t been in practice.  It has helped me look at areas where I want to grow also.  But I think that I also wrote this series for those of you who do such a wonderful job exemplifying these qualities as well.  It is those who have been the fortunate in this world who, like rocks striking the surface of the pond can send ripples into the world to try and make it a better place.  And when I say fortunate I don’t mean that your life has all been a “walk in the park” (and certainly mine hasn’t always been either) but have overcome great adversity to be where you are now.  I also don’t list these qualities to emphasize that we should all be the same. As I have tried to make clear along the way we all exemplify different levels of these qualities, and as I mentioned above, sometimes we may suppress these qualities in ourselves to be able to foster it others, like our children.  I think a good human exemplifies these qualities, but our individuality is what decides which of these qualities drives us most strongly.  Some people may strive for more balance, others may selflessly always give their time to others, some may love learning and sharing that knowledge, others display great acts of courage that inspire.  I do think that all these qualities, should always exist as sparks within ourselves, and we should never let them go out.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and she asked me why I even blog.  And I guess central to who I am is that I believe that we are a lot more similar than we are different, and I want to always try to look at things that bring us together rather than those things that drive us apart.  So I guess in looking at things that make a good human, I wanted to try to see if I could come up with what I felt was a comprehensive but simple list of things that I’ve seen in my life that make the world a better place for all.  I am sure there are other things that might be added, and as I continue to grow and learn perhaps I would add things to this series.  But if we can all agree on at least 8 things, that then I think that is a good start. 🙂

Peace.

Swarn

What Makes A Good Human?: Courage

The posts in this series so far have all been about valuable qualities for a human to have. I have tried to stress the importance of each quality, that none should be forgotten, and that we should work to exemplify them in our daily lives. As a passive reader, perhaps you have taken it all in, perhaps you have thought to yourself, this blogger has some good things to say and I agree with him. While it is great to keep wise thoughts and words in your head, as long as they remain just in your head they are useless. They must be actionable. This is the importance of courage. Courage is all about “doing”. Nobody goes around saying “I’m courageous”. You would simply be seen as a boaster and probably a liar if you went around saying this everywhere. People expect you to show it. It is something that cannot be proven by words alone.  As a result courage is as important as any other quality in a good human, and because it is about doing some might consider it to be the most important.

So what is courage? For many courage is about physical courage. They apply it to soldiers, police, firefighters, etc. These are people who still do their duty or job at great physical risk to themselves. And I have no doubt that many of the men and woman exemplify courage that do these jobs, but there are other moments when many other people may show physical courage. Trying to finish a marathon when your body feels like it can’t move another muscle could be considered courageous. Courage is not only defined by overcoming physical threats, there is also moral courage; a courage to act rightly, do as your principles guide you, and being true to who you are, despite what opposition, shame, or discouragement you may face. In either case we can see that courage is about overcoming the fear that prevents us from acting on what we think is right. Whether we value doing our job and duty putting out a dangerous fire and trying to save lives, or whether it is fighting unfair laws, coming out to your family and friends as gay, coming out to your family and friends as atheist, making yourself vulnerable to someone you love deeply, forgiving someone who has hurt you, or ending a relationship that you know isn’t right for you. And in many cases displaying moral courage can incur physical harm also, as I am sure many LGBT people can tell you once they came out of the closet.  It is important to remember also that while courage is a matter of degrees it is often difficult to judge how much courage one has for any particular action.  Someone who is afraid of the water may exhibit just as much courage taking that first step into the pool as a soldier takes taking his or her first step on to the battlefield.

For most of us, including myself, there are many things that we think are important and yet we’ve done very little to show they are important.  I think we’ve all had times where we knew something was important and right, but didn’t act on it.  This is a surefire way to build regrets in your life.  So it’s one thing to agree and say “yes play is important, I need to incorporate more of that into my life”, but if you aren’t putting that idea into something actionable it isn’t going to be much help to you or anybody else. Gandhi famously said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.  If you can’t exemplify the things you think are important, this, in my opinion, is due to a lack of courage. I know this sounds critical, but I am probably far more critical of my own lack of courage than anyone else. While I think I am a decent person, I want to always grow and become better, and I know that part of the reason why I wrote this series and put it out there is because I want to make sure I hold myself to the standard I am setting. I also understand fear, and how paralyzing it can be. There are very real reasons to be afraid of the consequences of our actions even if they are the right ones. What if a good friend of yours committed a crime? Would you report them knowing that what they did is wrong? Would it depend on the severity of the crime? Would it depend on how much history you have with that person? How much you loved them? What about the repercussions of other friends or family in the circle? It may also be your principle to protect the people you love no matter what, and for you keeping them out of jail might be what you consider protection. Therefore doesn’t it also require some courageous to fight that inner conflict and stick by your decision though it may be hard to forgive that person for the crime they committed? Our morality is often fraught with conflict and so doing what is right is often difficult.  Courage isn’t always about doing the right thing in an absolute sense, but may also be just doing what you think is right. Of course at times we can be not just wrong, but very wrong.

Here…a Reagan quote for all the Reagan lovers out there. He was a little more liberal than most people make him out to be today.

But even if we do have it wrong, acting on what we think is right is in most cases not a bad thing, because courage also implies taking a risk. As I’ve blogged about before taking risks whether a success or failure, teaches us something about ourselves. It gives us new information which we can build on moving forward. If you never left your country and were nervous about doing so it takes courage to overcome that hesitation and have that brand new experience of travel and being somewhere totally foreign. You may find that you love it and find something new and exciting to add to your life. Or you might have gotten robbed and had a horrible experience and decide that maybe travel isn’t for you. Either way you’ve learned and you can focus what new experiences you seek elsewhere. Courage asks us to put aside our instinct to simply stay safe. At times staying safe is sensible, but dwell there for too long and we let fears rule our lives, we fail to grow, learn and become stagnant.

Just like it takes courage to act on the qualities I’ve discussed in this series, so do those qualities help our courage.  Since we often fear what we don’t understand curiosity can help us make acts of courage not so daunting.  But no amount of knowledge can ever really erase our fears.  Even if what we learn is 100% correct it is human nature to experience something to really overcome our fears.  I am sure the person who is hydrophobic would gain little from reading books about the safety of water.  Our curious nature can also help us learn so that when we would do show courage we are acting not just what is right for us, but is also right for others and causes the least amount of harm.  Courage, by itself, is largely a matter of perspective.  Those who are more nationalistic put the courage of soldiers above all others.  Terrorists in Al Qaeda probably think that those who died crashing their planes into their targets during 9/11 were also courageous.   I am sure those who are strongly racist think that Roof was courageous for striking a blow against African-Americans.  Except in an extreme crisis it important to think before we act.  Courage being an action word implies that we must also think deeply about our principles.  But without courage just thinking is not enough either.  If this post or any other in this series so far has made you think then you are ready for the 8th and final quality to be posted in the not to distant future.

Hero Worship

I know this post will be very unpopular with some people I know, but I write it not as someone who means to offend, but simply as someone who wrestles with ethical principles all the time and this is a subject I’ve though a lot about.  I guess I was inspired to share my feelings about this after reading an article that talked about the dangers of automatically associating heroism with anybody who is in the military.  I’ve written about heroes before and how there are a lot of people in this world worthy of being called a hero, but most people don’t know about.  In this country it seems that if you’ve joined the military and are deployed you are a hero; plain and simple.  In fact usually when someone joins the service they are automatically seen as honorable and brave.  Adopting any attitude that is in opposition to glorifying the soldier is seen as treasonous by many.   The only narrative we are allowed to accept is one that paints the recruit as someone who nobly has joined to serve their country and defend American freedom (this turns out to not be the reason, most people join the military).  To think otherwise, it means you don’t appreciate the fact that soldiers died for your freedom.  You are ungrateful and you don’t understand the cost of being free.  I’ve always taken offense to this generalization, and it seems to me that many people who say things like this experience nationalism in the same way that the devout experience religion.

It’s not that I don’t think it takes a lot of guts to join the military, knowing that one day you may be placed in a situation in which people are trying to kill you.  In the middle of combat it is either kill or be killed and to come out of such a situation alive requires

From http://www.motherjones.com

some pretty good team skills and awareness in an extremely stressful situation.  There is certainly something to applaud and be amazed by such people.  Many of us perhaps would not be able to face such an extreme situation.  The question is, does that quality mean that this is their only defining quality of character?  And do we not have the right to complain about the context in which these soldiers are placed to take part in this very dangerous combat?  People often criticize us peace-lovers if we don’t support the war, and say we are not supporting the troops.  But I can think of no better way of supporting the troops than wanting them home and safe and not fighting in a conflict for which we have no business being part of.  If your child wants to do something that could get them killed, for which you don’t think there is any valid reason for them to be doing, if you don’t want them to do that are you being unsupportive?  Perhaps you just value their life more.  And when you don’t support a war, many consider you unpatriotic.  Most of those people have no problem criticizing Obama and his policies, so why is it unpatriotic to criticize a decision to go to war?

Often, of course, these things come down to your point of view.  If the act of joining the military and the willingness to put yourself in harm’s way automatically makes you a hero, and a brave and honorable person, then every member of the military anywhere must also have such qualities.  It may even include rebel forces, or terrorists.  Such people believe in their cause just as much as anybody in the military.  In some way this would make war even more horrible if the most brave and honorable of men and women are always being killed, it seems to me a terrible way to solve a problem.  The

From http://www.theatlantic.com

problem is that we tend not to see just any soldier is honorable, but only the ones that fight for us, our allies, or causes that we agree with.  To say that a Nazi soldier was as honorable as any allied soldier would not go over well.  And of course in order to justify killing the “enemy” we must dehumanize and make them less than they are.  When they kill civilians they are the scum of the earth, and when we do it, it’s an accident in the course of an honorable fight.  Was every Nazi a Jew-hating genocidal maniac?  That seems unlikely.  Many were perhaps simply fighting because they had been recruited, because they wanted to provide for their family, because the country was destitute at the time and thought the fight was a cause that could improve the German standard of living.  There are likely many other reasons, but how easy would it be to kill someone if he was no different than you, but just happened to live in a different country?

In Henry V, one of the well-known scenes from the play involves King Henry disguising himself as a common soldier and walking through his troops on the eve of a big battle.  His troops are tired, sick and will be outnumbered the following day.  At one point the King questions one of his men about whether or not they should trust the king, that

From http://www.empireonline.com

what if his reasons for this fight are unjust and is just leading them all to slaughter.  A soldier gets angry at this and says that he fights for King and country and that if the King’s reasons be unjust that that is a crime he will have to answer for when he dies and that it is something for the King’s conscious to deal with, and not the soldiers.  This seems to be the ultra-nationalistic mentality that many in this country subscribe to.  If there is an afterlife then perhaps this is true, but even if there is some supernatural judge up their making us answer for our crimes, does that morally justify leading men to their slaughter even if their loyalty leads them to be willing to do so (although at least in King Henry’s time the King fought along side his men instead of sitting thousands of miles away)?  Just because someone is willing to die for you, should they?  Is it not even more morally wrong to take advantage of that loyalty for an unjust cause?  It seems that context is important.  When it comes to killing shouldn’t we need more than simply, “this is just what our government wants, so we have to do it”?  Shouldn’t we make absolutely sure that our cause is just?  Shouldn’t we also really make sure that other means of solving conflict aren’t a better option?

For the most part, honor and courage being automatically associated with the military mystifies me for a couple of reasons.  First I find it very uncomfortable to surrender my choice about what causes I fight for.  Would I have enlisted to fight Nazi’s in WWII.  I think that’s likely especially given what they were doing in concentration camps.  But would I have happily then gone to Korea 5 years later?  Absolutely not.  And while I realize on some level a military probably wouldn’t work if we got to pick and choose which conflicts we wanted to fight in, when it comes to pointing a gun and killing somebody else I think I should believe in that cause, not do it because someone else believes in the cause.  I want to live a moral life.  The Nuremberg trials even set the international legal precedent that “just following orders” cannot be used as a defense for committing atrocities and absolving guilt, but only lessening the sentence.  I simply don’t want to be put in a position where I am asked to fight and kill others unless I think it is the best and only course of action.  I don’t find any honor in simply killing or dying for someone else’s cause.

WilliamPurves
My grandfather

Secondly, many people will question your lack of courage when you say you don’t want to be a soldier, or say at least that a soldier has more courage.  I’d like to say that I am not afraid of dying for a cause I believe in.  Dying is a pretty easy thing to do after all.  Many people have done it, and you only have to do it once.  What I am afraid of is killing.  My grandfather fought in WWII.  He didn’t talk about it much and I admired the courage it takes to get through such a terrible conflict in which so many, including his brother, were killed.  I never asked him how many people he killed though. He was a good man.  It was hard to imagine him killing, and if I were to guess, I think he is the type like many who would have carried the weight of those he killed.  Even in a cause he believed in.  He would have wondered, “what kind of man was it that I killed?  In different circumstances could we not have been friends, shared a shot of scotch whiskey and kept each other laughing all night?”  I know such questions would plague me.  I know the average person loves his/her family, is kind to his/her neighbors and would help those in need.  And perhaps it is come to the mind of many in the military, “Perhaps that soldier’s leaders have taught him/her dehumanize me in the same way I had been taught to dehumanize them.”  Maybe they have doubts.  I certainly would.  Like, what if my bullet misses and hits some civilian or my own comrade?  What if we were told to attack the wrong target and it was a school instead of a military hideout?  If I choose an action that could end my own life, that is my choice, but ending someone else’s life is another matter altogether.  From a psychological point of view, one could easily argue that putting yourself into a situation in which you give up your right to choose the causes you fight for, and are willing to kill people you really don’t have a problem with, can be seen as mentally unsound as opposed to a decision filled with honor and courage.

In the end, I can’t subscribe to the idea that those who join the military are the best example of bravery and honor.  There are people in the military who have done terrible things.  Rape in the military is a huge issue right now.  Where is the honor there?  Of course we want our military to be honorable, and there are many who are.  But there are also many honorable people in different facets of society.  If we are going to celebrate heroism let us not only do it for the glorification of war.  There are many people who have courage and face difficulties and adversity everyday.  Sometimes it takes more courage to live than to die.  Let us at least bestow the label of honor, courage and heroism to wherever it applies and not apply it blindly.  Such things prevent us from having honest conversations about important issues concerning conflict, war and violence.  I bear no ill will towards soldier, and appreciate the sacrifices that they go through.  Particularly because I know many of them did not join the military because they wanted to fight in a war.  And maybe I don’t understand or am a coward, but personally I’m glad that we have found better ways to deal with conflicts and that there are a smaller percentage of people dying in wars today than in our past.  It gives me hope for the future.