Bullies and Heros

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As we continue on in this world rife with conflicts and military “actions” (fka “wars”), a thinking person must consider the question: “What would I do in situation X?” A more aware person asks, “What will I do?”

We all want to believe that we hold deep within ourselves the potential for heroism. Faced with an unfathomable evil, a Hero will bravely stand his ground, roaring a challenge of Truth and Righteousness. A brief battle ensues, the Righteous Person’s strength flags…still he presses on… he falls back… it looks as though hope is lost..he rallies… he rises up in a sudden burst of Knowledge, Righteousness, and Truth, and the Hero overcomes the Evil, defeating it forever – or at least until the sequel comes out. His (our) superior character is victorious – and he gets the girl, exiting the scene tired, smiling, and content that all is good again. Hollywood has the formula down pat.

The media’s formula is similar, albeit slightly different. Each time an evil is vanquished, another rises up to take its place. When was the last world news cast that did not devote a significant amount of time to denouncing a particularly “evil” nation? The target is always moving. Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Viet Nam, Korea… Of the currently 195 independent nations in the world, the U.S. has openly participated in conflicts against at least one-fourth of them. This does not include covert operations, or wars fought within its own borders.

To put this in perspective, consider the amount of attention bullying in schools is garnering. The National Center for Educational Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov) states that 27.8% of school students reported being bullied at school in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available). This has resulted in a nation-wide push for bullying prevention strategies, interventions, and curricula to be instituted in public schools. Effects of bullying can include “depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness….loss of activities they used to enjoy…Health complaints…Decreased academic achievement” (www.stopbullying.gov). Further, “A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures.”

According to stopbullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Let’s apply that definition to a wider population: “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among nations that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

If history over the last century or two is examined, it becomes apparent which nation has held the greatest amount of real and perceived power, both monetary (such as holding the recognized world reserve currency) and military (maintaining the largest military, the most [and most destructive] weapons, and the greatest number of military bases worldwide). That nation has repeatedly inserted itself into the politics, economics, and policies of nations worldwide, often calling for sanctions (punishments) for those nations who do not comply with its will. This has happened with approximately 25% of the world – statistically similar to the percentage of bullied children that has so galvanized the American educational system to action. As a result, the world perception of the U.S. is not a positive one, despite the American media’s declarations to the contrary.

Unfortunately for the average citizen bystander, the same holds true for nation victims of bullying as for child victims of bullying: A small number might (read: will) retaliate through extremely violent measures. When a nation decides that enough is enough, the results could be more catastrophic than most realize.

When that happens, and the realities of war are on our doorsteps, it would be wise to remember the words of Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor:

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Any moment can be one in which we practice the building blocks of heroism. Every day can be one in which we choose peace. Peaceful interaction is not always easy; it requires effort and practice to become habit. As Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:1-4)

The choice is ours, in every situation – how will we respond? Will we practice perseverance, practice peace, and build character into our lives? Or will we be overcome by every plight because we have neglected intentional resolve and forbearance in our lives?

Circumstances don’t make the man; they reveal his character.

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Everyone Has to Practice Nonviolence. Now. by Rev. John Dear

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Well-stated examination of non-violence in our real world

Dandelion Salad

"Nonviolence means not only avoiding external physical violence but also internal violence of the spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, you refuse to hate him" Sign (Washington, DC) Image by takomabibelot via Flickr

Dandelion Salad

by Rev. John Dear
originally published on Common Dreams
May 14, 2015

The death of unarmed Freddie Gray in police custody and the subsequent riots in Baltimore demonstrate the profound systemic injustice in our country, as well as the complete misunderstanding and widespread hypocrisy about nonviolence.

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“Honor” doesn’t mean what we think

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A certain “news” cast recently ridiculed a soldier who had gone missing or AWOL, repeatedly criticizing a friend’s defending him as “honorable.” In this media head’s eyes, a man’s refusal to kill indiscriminately, and subsequent choice to walk away from a life and situation that demanded he do so, can be nothing but dishonorable. Such a viewpoint, expounded by a person purported to be a Christian, calls for some examination.

The definition of honor, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, is “high moral standards of behavior.” Dictionary.com defines it as “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs or actions.” Oxford American English Dictionary: “adherence to what is right…quality of knowing and doing what is morally right.”

In other words, honor is the choice to follow and do what one knows is right, regardless of the consequences for oneself.

Now of course humans are fallible. I would venture to say that not one person in the history of the world (excepting, of course, Jesus, who was – and is – so much more than human) has been completely honorable in every aspect of life. However, for this newscaster, while vociferously proclaiming “Christianity,” to condemn another for refusing to kill is both disheartening and at odds with the teaching of the one he claims as a Savior. It would be funny if only there weren’t tens of thousands more doing the same.

Some would argue that this soldier gone AWOL had an obligation, a contract to fulfill. He joined the military; he chose this life. But perhaps it is not so black and white.

Military recruiters, by virtue of the position, are salesmen. Their one job is to fill the ranks of their field with as many willing and, they hope, capable young men and women as they can. And they are given many advantages in order to do so. Their offices are often in shopping malls where teenagers meet and hang out. Commercials abound on television, the internet, and the radio, depicting an exciting life of adventure and bravery. The typical recruiter builds on this same platform, talking with the potential recruit about travel, benefits such as college tuition, and choice in training and station. He paints a picture of excitement, prestige, and security, all rolled into an impressively uniformed package.

Recruiters have another advantage. They are given access to students in public – and some private – schools. A ripe captive audience largely anesthetized by video games that glorify the killing of faceless enemies, who miraculously jump back up for more the next time the game is loaded. The reality, when these young students find themselves graduated to active duty combat, is altogether different.

I don’t believe that recruiters are monsters. Of the ones that I have met, I can say that they have been people who care about their families and who want to defend their loved ones from a perceived threat. They believe the words they speak about defending their country, and are respected for following their convictions.

Why, then, is another man who follows his convictions publicly denounced and vilified? Simply because his convictions don’t mesh with public opinion? This man could not silence his conscience and do what he believed to be morally wrong.

Thankfully, neither did Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., or Jesus.