from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

This diary may be pointless 

I have had several thoughts rattling around in my head for the past hour or so. So I sat down and started writing. Since I had no other topic on which I wished to write today, I decided that I would post this as my daily offering.

I am hoping that this will have value for at least one person. If not, I apologize in advance for the electrons I have consumed. Feel free to read or not as suits you, to respond or not likewise. I am home, alone except for five cats, and this is my perhaps futile attempt to connect in some meaningful way with others. I apologize in advance if it strikes you as other.

Peace. And I invite you to continue reading.

I have 6 more days of vacation. Tasks for school are behind, but not much, as I corrected the last of my papers today, and should finish planning sometime tomorrow. After several nights of 9-10 hours of sleep, albeit interrupted by a sinus condition, my body has almost recuperated. And the hard work of planning for Yearlykos remains on holiday hiatus, giving me a chance to reflect and think in broader terms.

This evening I caught part of a conversation on CSPAN with Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize winning writer about the Civil Rights Era. One question phoned in for him was about the influence of the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh on King. Branch related how King had been shocked when Hanh defended the self-immolations of Vietnamese Buddhist monks to protest and try to stop the war (something imitated in the Pentagon parking lot by American Quaker Norman Morrison). King was horrified by the idea of suicide, but Hanh tried to explain how to a Buddhism it was not suicide, but transition to a different state, and that the willingness to undergo the pain, suffering and extinguishing of current life on behalf of something in which you strongly believed would in the Buddhist mind be seen as something noble. Branch pointed out that King and Hanh may have continued to disagree on this one point, but that King was so affected by his interchanges with the Vietnamese monk that he - given his privilege as a former winner himself - nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Part of King’s horror came from his lack of understanding of a different perspective, a different world view. I grasped this even as Branch was thinking - the act of self-immolation was totally alien to one steeped in a Christian environment. After all, Catholic cemeteries to this day will not bury within their confines those who have committed suicide (although here I remember both the phrase from some evangelical anticommunists of the 1950’s of “better dead than Red” and the long list of martyrs honored because they chose death rather than disavow their faith). I began to reflect.

We react in horror to suicide bombings in Iraq and in Israel and elsewhere. And yet, were an American soldier to rush an enemy machine gun nest with two armed grenades and blow up the enemy position while killing himself we would demand he be given the Medal of Honor. His action was suicidal, but because we perhaps approve of the end goal of his action we accept and even honor an action which in a different context we would condemn.

In my own small participation in the Civil Rights movement, we were trained in minimally protecting ourselves against blows, we practiced not responding to verbal or even physical assaults. For many Americans such an approach would be considered ridiculous, perhaps even cowardly. And yet there was a purpose, a belief that the use of violence to obtain rights that should be open to all by mere fact of being human somehow besmirched dishonored those rights, and that ultimately we would be far more successful in our willingness to absorb blows, perhaps be harmed or even killed, because it would witness to the depth of our commitment.

Many could not understand us, as they could not understand Gandhi (not that I equate my own minimal actions with the risks he endured).

There is an arrogance in all of this. We embark on paths because we assume the rightness of our goal. Others will criticize us on both tactics and strategy, and if we are not immediately effective in obtaining an ultimate goal that will also be thrown against us. We will be asked what we have accomplished by our “noble” actions, other than pain or even death.

And yet such charges can be arrayed against any human endeavor, so at least for me they are not discouraging.

Shortly after I had begun this reflection I read the article by Ryan Lizza that focuses on Rahm Emanuel. Here I should disclose that I used to know him slightly - we attended the same synagogue while he worked for Clinton, and he was kind enough to allow me to bring a group of 8th graders to meet with him in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. As I read the article, it was not the foulness of language that upset me. I was perhaps more concerned about the need to demean those who had other points of view. even if they may have shared similar ultimate goals. I wondered how far that willingness to ignore the humanity of the one who disagreed would go absent at least some shared goals?

I am no saint. I have a temper, and a far too easily bruised ego. My brilliant mother (graduating from hs at 14, Cornell at 18 and Columbia Law at 21) passed on to me one of my least admirable characteristics: I have a very quick mind and mouth, and am far too easily tempted to use it for the verbal (or in this environment electronic) attack on others.

I periodically catch my self, realizing that whatever short-term advantage or satisfaction I may gain from supposed verbal brilliance is more than offset by the damage to those long-term goals that matter far more to me. But the reason that the long-term goals matter more is because I can see myself as connected to others, even if they are now my opponents, even if they are very different in action, in world view.

I posit here no superior moral position. I have in myself far too much human fallibility to ever be able to sustain such a claim. I am merely offering some not very well developed thoughts electronically.

This is being written primarily for dailykos, a web site devoted to electing Democrats. It will be posted elsewhere - RaisingKaine, teacherken.blogspot.com, Notinournames, perhaps even at StreetProphets. The primary audience, the readers of dailykos, will be the main reason for how I express the ideas I now choose to offer.

If we aspire to have Democrats control our government, we must be clear what we want for them, and not in our efforts to achieve those ultimate goals do things that are contrary. If we believe that the level personal destructiveness and deviousness in political campaigns, in legislative processes, has been bad for this country, we have no right to use similar tactics whether in retribution, anger, or for any other justification. If it was wrong when it was done to us, it would be similarly wrong for us to resort to such actions.

Battles of ideas and concepts can and should be vigorous. Hypocrisy is fair game. But demeaning merely because one can is not, and I might add it is often counter productive. Using the legislative process to raise massive campaign sums in order to wage televised warfare is as much of an abomination as was Tom Delay’s K-Street Project. Further, it is not necessary, and it turns off those whose support we need if we are going to move this nation forward.

We will have strong disagreements on issues. If we cannot understand the mindset of others we will misinterpret what their actions mean. We do not have to agree with either their points of view or the actions that flow therefrom, but if we simply assume they have no rational basis then two things will happen. First we will misinterpret what they really mean, and second our actions in response will not be as effective, either against them, or in attempting to persuade those who are not advocates of either side of the particular dispute.

What is legitimate to say or do or believe? How are we entitled to reject another person because of disagreement on one or even multiple issue? How are we so certain that what we believe and how we act is always correct? Is not that an unforgivable arrogance? Does it not lead to the mindset that does not allow one to make corrections, because recognition of previously wrong beliefs or actions implies weakness, so is never considered? Is not that part of why we are so critical of the current president, who is unwilling to ever acknowledge that his decisions could be wrong? Do we wish to be like him, like this administration?

It is normal for people to reflect back at certain times, perhaps as a birthday or anniversary of a major life milestone occurs. Given the Civil calendar, there are many such reflections at this time of the year. We see Time announce its person(s) of the year (and by the way, congratulations). There are lists of the ten best and ten worst - movies, books, politicians, whatever. For many of us there is something of a lull in our normal level of activity. In my case the school is closed for 11 days. Others simply take extended time off, as my wife is doing to be with her family.

I offer these thoughts not because I consider them profound. But perhaps, even as they are at best tentative, a work in process (as is my life), they may in some way connect with the thinking of someone else.

Perhaps you will offer something back. Maybe my words don’t direct connect with some third person, but our exchange of thoughts does. Perhaps what you offer will crystalize something as yet not completely formed in my own thinking. That is why I post this. I encourage responses, whatever they may be.

And if there are no responses, if this diary merely scrolls into oblivion with little traffic, so be it. I claim neither profundity nor insight nor wisdom. I offer my somewhat unformed thoughts in the hope that they may be of value to someone else. Whatever happens from here, over that i have no control.
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