I was a teenager during the Vietnam war, and like many of my generation, I was passionately opposed to it, indeed to killing of any kind. I felt so strongly about it that, for some months anyway, I allowed myself to get sucked into arguing with my very Republican father about it every night after dinner.
He talked Domino Theory, I quoted Ghandi. He prided himself on his logic, I immersed myself in my deep, deep feeling that our country was wrong on so many levels and in so many ways. He said our country had to fight the communists to keep that poison from spreading. I said our country had to stop sending our young men to kill others, or to die themselves. Every night, he annihilated me and I’d leave the room in tears. Every day I’d be back for another round.
We fought a war, the two of us. I see that now, though for a long time I only saw the scars of this particular example of family dysfunction. Each of us was righteous in our conviction that we held the only truth. We warred every night trying to force the other to change, to prove the rightness of one opinion over another. I can’t speak for my father, but I can say that for me it was ugly and vicious and a complete erasure of my voice.
For years I marched to that same drum, with pretty much the same outcome. There were things going on that I believed were wrong, and I was by God going to confront them – until they changed to the way I thought they should be. I made myself soul sick. I saw my definition of injustice everywhere. I found people who agreed with me, and we all fought what we thought were noble battles to right wrongs. I thought those who disagreed with me as evil, and I could not understand how they could believe and act as they did. I was, in fact, very like them… and even now that is hard to swallow.
Over time, maybe because I got older, certainly because being in a constant state of battle is exhausting, I unhooked myself from causes. I stopped wanting to ‘fight the good fight’. I began to get just a hint of what Mother Teresa was talking about when she said she wouldn’t attend an anti-war rally, but she would attend a pro-peace rally. I chose a profession where I could heal, choosing in effect to be for something rather than against something.
I’ve stopped trying to globalize my distress at ‘wrong things’, and surprisingly I find that I have more balance, more awareness of beauty, of compassion, of care for others. I recognize my responsibility in contributing to the continuation of ‘wrong things’. I’m beginning to get, really deeply get, that not everyone sees the world as I see it, and if I want to enjoy the magnificent diversity of life, I have to stop pushing against, I have to stop judging.
I have some ways to go, and mostly I’m ok with that. It’s always a shock, though, when the lesson comes around again.
At the moment, there is one person who consistently gets me going. I’m so annoyed by him that it doesn’t matter what he does; whatever it is, it pisses me off. He has a finger on the button that sends me from 0 – 60 on my personal rage-o-meter as soon as he does anything that touches my life.
I’m aware that I’ve allowed him access to that button. I’m aware that my sense of him has narrowed down to a point where I can only see him through the lens of ‘you’re an idiot’. I allow him no redeeming virtues. At all. I have, in fact, given him a lot of power in my life.
And while the anger I feel is energizing, and feels like it cleans out my pipes (that is, after all, the power of this emotion – the power that pushes the dandelion through the sidewalk), I’m aware also aware of the cost to me every time I allow myself to get pissed off at him. Again.
These are the seeds of war, and I carry them within myself. They begin within me on such an unimportant scale, and they are planted whenever I feel like someone’s ignoring me, or not taking my needs into account, or feel like his actions are messing with my well-ordered, enjoyable life. My Ego leaps to the front, denying my higher self, the part that recognizes there is that of God in everyone – even this guy.
Guess that makes him one of my teachers. Dammit. (Sorry, still working on this.)