Friday, February 10, 2006

Reply to a comment

(This post is a response to Nomaadic, the writer of a blog that I have been following for a short time. See the previous post for background.)

Again, thanks for visiting. I began a response in the comments but my train of thought got too long. I have decided to write a post instead.

When you say there is hope in what you have written, I have to accept that because it comes from you, the writer. Every line in that last paragraph still strikes me as an unambiguous expectation of conflict with no glimmer of hope that such a conflict is avoidable. I am now reading into your words the idea that hope is still alive.

I like what you said about empathy. It is certainly true that empathy leads to hope, but it is almost humanly impossible for empathy to rise in the heart of someone whose life has been devastated by some horrible circumstance set in motion by the responsible party.

I'm thinking of the survivors of apartheid in South Africa as they face their former tormentors in TRC proceedings. Or the image of a child screaming and crying in desparate panic, splattered with her mother's blood, following the mistaken shooting of family members by US forces in Iraq.

There is another civilized discipline preceding empathy, because in many cases empathy will never come. That discipline is simply tolerance. Empathy tries to respond, but tolerance only endures, hopefully until some less corrosive inner light can soften the heart of the practitioner.
I think that the notion of "threat" is important. It is important to discern the difference between threat and insult. They are not the same. One calls for a response. The other does not.

The most hopeful form of tolerance is internal, self-imposed by the individual who is being tolerant. Absent that, externally-imposed tolerance is all that remains. This is where leadership is needed. My only experience with this application of tolerance comes from the American civil rights movement of my youth. I won't bore you with details. As an educated person you may know more than I about that subject. In terms of tolerance, that movement can be seen as a footnote to an even bloodier conflict that took place a century before, but as it was it still stands to illustrate the principle of de jure tolerance, put in place by leaders who knew well that their constituents would not otherwise cooperate.

It has taken decades for fruit to grow from those seeds. And even now, some of the fruit is vile. The vision of social and political equality between all people is still just that -- a vision. But as long as that vision remains, there is hope. My generation will pass, and others after me, but I will go with the sure conviction that I did all in my power to insure that the vision did not fade because of anything I did.

Today the need for clear-thinking, disciplined leadership is great. I am watching with frustration as those who claim the mantle of leadership engage in vituperative, sarcastic tones of indignation, prating about free speech and insults, while at the same time using the inflammatory rhetoric of their ignorant constituents.** While framing discussions in ways that insure escallating conflict they pose as peacemakers. The few voices that speak plainly in favor of decency are quickly marginalized by insults about "caving in" or "kowtowing." It is hard to know the facts, but the same dynamic seems to be at work on both sides of the cartoons argument.

**[22] Afterward it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace.
Refer to Wisdom of Solomon 14:22

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