Friday, December 6, 2013

Warrior for Peace

Nelson Mandela died this week. In response, the interwebs have lit up with quotes and (in our graphic-heavy culture) memes featuring quotes. Yesterday as I saw my facebook feed fill up with these images and quotes I was struck by something.

Do you see it? Do you see the pattern? Warrior, conquer, victory, front lines, weapon... A man famous for his efforts toward peace is constantly using the language of war. And for good reason.
As another blogger put it
News outlets around the Western world are hurrying to publish obituaries that celebrate his electoral victory while erasing the protracted and fierce guerrilla struggle that he and his party were forced to fight in order to make that victory possible. Don’t let racist, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of another radical. Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.
As Mandela himself explained
"I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone...Force is the only language the imperialists can hear, and no country became free without some sort of violence."

As a man who loved and wanted peace, Mandala also had the wisdom to recognize that there are times when conflict and force are necessary. He spoke of using sabotage rather than outright attacks whenever he could, in order to preserve human life whenever possible. But he did not hesitate to do what needed to be done to achieve the goals he had in mind. 

This man of peace was a warrior, because he made the choices to do what had to be done in order to effectively get the results he wanted. Now I'm not saying that most of us will ever face a time where physical violence is the appropriate approach, but there is a time for talking and gentle civil disobedience, but there is also a time for confrontation and outright rebellion. I always advocate using the gentlest measure that will accomplish the task at hand, but if persuasion has no effect then yes, there is a time for action.
Women in this country asked for the right to vote for twenty years. Then they stood in front of the White House with signs that threw the president's words back in his teeth, Alice Paul handcuffed herself to the White House fence, and she and others went to jail and participated in hunger strikes because they were willing to become martyrs if needbe. Not all confrontation has to be violent, but it is confrontation nonetheless, and can be powerful in places where gentle persuasion was not. Discussion is GOOD and sometimes it is effective (and when it is, hallelujah). But action is also GOOD and even aggressive action has a place when other means are unsuccessful.
Over time some things improve, but do not be so complacent as to think that the world is perfect yet. There are battles still to be fought; are you willing to stand and participate?

And for good measure, a few final thoughts from a man who should be remembered for both aspects: his desire for peace and equality, AND his willingness to stand up and literally fight to achieve those goals.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”(Margaret Mead)

Do not be blind to your own privilege. Prejudice is everywhere, and that is a battle that can be won more effectively in individual hearts than in legislative chambers.

Love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

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