Thoughts on the death of Osama bin Laden

May 2, 2011

I have felt disturbed since reading last night that US forces killed Osama bin Laden. Since then it has been sitting in the back of my mind but I had trouble putting words to my reaction. This afternoon I read an excellent blog post that helped clarify things for me: “Osama bin Laden is dead. One Buddhist’s response.” by Susan Piver. I wish I could quote the whole thing but I will restrain myself with these two parts that particularly hit home:

Was there even a hint of vengefulness or gladness at Osama bin Laden’s death? If so, that is a real problem. Whatever suffering he may have experienced cannot reverse even one moment of the suffering he caused. If you believe his death is a form of compensation, you are deluded.

When we hate, we cause hate. When we think we have won by vanquishing our enemy, we have lost. In killing Osama bin Laden, “they” lose because one of their leaders is gone. But we lose too, because we have deepened the causes and conditions that lead to more hatred and its consequences. This is not over.

I did not feel glad at his death. I felt sadness. And fear. And hopelessness.

I fear because I know that this death is not the end of anything. It will fuel the flames of hatred against the United States that bin Laden himself fueled. Do not be mistaken into a false sense of security: there is no doubt in my mind that there will be attempts at retaliation. It is just another peak in the vicious cycle of hatred and fear, of us versus them.

I feel hopeless that there will ever be an end to this vicious cycle. Hopeless that we will ever be able to move beyond us versus them. I do not believe that bin Laden was an isolated case, one sadistic individual, such that removing him removes all danger of terrorist attacks. No, rather I believe that he was part of a system, a system that the US helps create, in which the US is locked head to head with the terrorists from the Middle East. Another leader will rise to take his place and the cycle will continue. I feel hopeless that we will ever be able to break such a terrible cycle. Will we ever realize that violence is not a solution because it only fuels more violence?

And why do I feel sad? I feel sad because Osama bin Laden was a human being. I feel sad that we cannot see any solutions beyond violence and murder, that we are still stuck in the archaic attitude of an “eye for an eye.” I feel sad that societies do not have healthy ways of handling troubled individuals, ways that keep those individuals from turning into sadistic terrorists. I am sad that more people do not recognize the core humanity of every single human being on this earth.

Osama bin Laden will not harm any more people, but little else has changed. The United States still has an enemy. The people who died in the 9/11 attacks are not going to come back to life. The flames of hatred and fear continue to be fueled.

Lest we forget, we are all human. Every single one of us. I’ll end with this quote from Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

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Dreamer of dreams

March 6, 2011

I continue to struggle with something I have written about on this blog before, which is how to take actions that uphold my ideals. I have not written much here recently, in part because I have not felt particularly inspired in the past few months. In fact, I have at times felt quite hopeless and powerless, such as when I read about the flurry of reactionary bills in Congress or budget cuts to K-12 education in Colorado.

I encounter many demands – through my church and on the blogs and websites I read – to be a political activist, to write yet again to my congressperson, sign yet another petition, or attend yet another rally. Even though I know there is evidence of such things actually having an impact, I find it difficult to gather the motivation to partake in these actions myself. I remain unconvinced at a visceral level that doing so actually makes a difference.

However, the constant bombardment of demands to act combined with my lack of motivation to do so results in guilt. Am I not doing my part to make this world a better place because I do not partake in political activism? When I am feeling neither completely hopeless about the world nor guilty about my political inaction, I remember that there are many ways of being in and contributing to the world. Political activism is only one such way, and it is not for everyone. Politics have always sickened me and made me feel hopeless and powerless, and I don’t think this is likely to change.

As I search for my way of acting towards peace and a better world, I take inspiration from the first stanza of the poem “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

I am a dreamer of dreams. I am a music maker. It is through being these things that I will move and shake the world. My way of acting is not in political activism, but in waking people up, shaking them out of their sleep and shifting their perspective on life, on the world, on their community, on their meaning. I believe that my way in the world is as a “quiet leader”: I am not out to be the next senator but as a dreamer of dreams I am a leader nonetheless.

Therefore, I must learn not to feel guilty in the face of demands for political action that I do not fulfill. For I am a dreamer of dreams, a music maker, and a mover and a shaker of the world.


Regaining inspiration

May 24, 2009

For the past few weeks my desires to take positive action towards making a difference in the world have become somewhat dormant (hence my unplanned break from posting for the past month or so). In February I participated in a 40-hour training to be a mediator, after which I felt inspired and eager to pursue a way to develop my mediation skills. At the end of March, I sent an application to be a volunteer mediator to the community mediation program in a neighboring city. I was eager and excited, but as the weeks passed and I continued to not hear anything back about my application, I have become frustrated and my eagerness has gone dormant. I finally reached someone working for the mediation program last week who told me that they did receive my application and the woman in charge would get to it within two weeks, but I am still quite frustrated that it has taken them this long.

However, I have regained a little inspiration from a speaker I heard this morning. She told us, among other things, about a book titled Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad, by Frances Moore Lappe. I did not recognize the name of the author until the speaker mentioned that she wrote Diet for a Small Planet, which I have heard of and I believe my parents own. The book sounds incredibly inspiring, and just what I need to regain my motivation and inspiration. From the introduction on the website:

So this little book is about learning to see the killer ideas that trap us and letting them go. It’s about people in all walks of life interrupting the spiral of despair and reversing it with new ideas, ingenious innovation?and courage. It’s about finding that mixture of anger and hope to energize us for this do-or-die effort. Why not go for it?

As I listened to the speaker this morning, I realized something. I often say to myself and others, “I want to make a difference in the world.” I realized that, while this is true, I can say something else, something that is more powerful: “I will make a difference in the world.” I don’t know right now what that difference will be, how small or big it will be, where or when or how I will do it, or even whether I will be aware at the time that what I am doing is making a difference. But as I live my life deliberately, caring most of all about people, I know that one way or another, I will make a difference in the world.


More on The Third Side

January 1, 2009

Note: I cross-posted this at Books and Other Miscellany

Last summer I had spent some time looking at the website for The Third Side, so when I saw the book at a used bookstore, I bought it, looking forward to a more thorough discussion of the topics on the website. I was not disappointed. The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop, by William Ury, presents a thorough discussion of the human history of fighting followed by detailed looks at the ten roles one can play in a conflict as a thirdsider. Ury’s writing, although at times a bit dry, presents the topics in an accessible manner, with a clear goal of making this information available to and understandable by as many people as possible.

In the first section of the book, Ury presents a compelling argument that the majority of human history has in fact consisted of relatively peaceful coexistance, and it is only in the last 5,000 years that armed conflict has become the norm. First of all, there is no archeological evidence of warfare prior to the last 5,000 years. Of course, as Ury points out, the lack of evidence does not imply that warfare did not exist. However, Ury continues with a detailed analysis of what we do know about pre-historic societies and explains how cooperation rather than coercion would have simply made more sense in ensuring survival. In a hunter-gather society with a low population density, there are enough resources for everyone, cooperation ensures more rather than less, and social ties with other groups are important to survival: “If a drought occurs or a seasonal imbalance in game, plants, or water, people can go visit relatives and friends, who would share their territory and food. The following year, the visitors could reciprocate and receive the hosts of the previous year.” Five thousand years ago, when humans became settled and agricultural rather than nomadic, the population increased and force became an effective way of ensuring survival. Thus, there was more armed conflict and this is what we think of as human history. Ury’s basic argument is sumarized is follows:

In truth, however, the violence and domination we have known are the product not so much of human nature but the complex logic of settling down, intensive reliance on land, population increase, the weakening of the third side, the closing of the exit option, the development of authoritarian hierarchies, the growth of the state, and the contagion of war. At the bottom of this logic is the dependence on fixed-pie resources—first of land and then of power over other human beings.

Ury sees positive signs in the last 50 years that we might be on our way to a society where once again force does not make sense for survival: the Knowledge Revolution – knowledge is an expandable rather than fixed pie and sharing it benefits everyone; weapons have become so destructive that war now has an “all-lose” nature; it is much less likely that the aggressor will win than in the past; war is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the larger community; humans are forming networks across the globe, creating a large and powerful potential third side; and negotiation has become necessary and expected in business and politics.

I found Ury’s arguments about the history of conflict and the potential for peace in the future persuasive, but I did not need to read such in-depth analyses in order to be convinced that peace is possible. I already believed that, for a much simpler reason than what Ury presents: humans have successfully resolved conflicts without force. The simple fact that it has happened, that humans at some point, somewhere, have resolved a conflict satisfactorily without force, is enough for me to believe that if violence is human nature, then cooperation and peaceful resolution of conflicts is equally so. I believe that we have a choice in any conflict whether to use peace means or violence to resolve it. However, perhaps this is a somewhat idealistic view of things. Ury argues that the structure of a society and the way in which resources are distributed affects whether violence and force is a logical way to resolve a conflict. This suggests that even if humans are always capable of choosing peace, they will not choose it in certain situations where force seems to better ensure their survival. This could easily lead one into a state of despair, thinking that because of the way our society has evolved, violence is simply inevitable and there is nothing we can do. If I start thinking in this way, then I find Ury’s final arguments about our current situation and future possibilities quite reassuring. Society is continually evolving, and it is possible in our current situation to make cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution the more logical choice. To help make this happen, we need to invoke the third side during conflicts.

And thus we get to the second part of the book, where Ury discusses each of the ten roles one can play on the third side of a conflict: provider, teacher, or bridge-builder to help prevent conflicts; mediator, arbiter, equalizer, or healer to help resolve conflicts; and witness, referee, or peacekeeper to help contain conflicts. Although I had already read about each role on the website (and wrote about them in an earlier post), I enjoyed the additional depth and more detailed examples in the book. However, somewhere close to the end of the book I suddenly stopped reading it for a couple weeks. I think I was having trouble staying engaged because it was not that new to me. I also noticed that the part I stopped in was about containing conflicts, which is the least interesting to me – I would much rather work on preventing or peacefully resolving conflicts than on trying to contain them once they have started escalating.

The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop is an important book that I think everyone should read, especially the part about the ten roles one can take on (the first half of the book, while interesting, is not necessary to learning something from the second half; however, if you believe that violence is simply inevitable and there is no hope, then I suggest reading the first half). It is not necessary to take on one of the roles formally in order to help in a conflict – simply understanding what these roles are and seeing examples of how to use them can give you the ability to step into a role more naturally when you encounter a conflict. You may not notice that you are taking an explicit role, or you may be doing a mix of roles, but you are still acting as the third side and helping work towards peaceful resolution of conflicts.


Obama and hope

November 8, 2008

There is no question that Barack Obama is a charismatic and inspirational speaker and leader. Like many others, I am hopeful about the change he has promised to bring to this country. As many are saying, he has a lot to live up to, and no doubt he will disappoint some – perhaps many – people. He is, after all, only human, and he will inherit some huge problems with this country.

However, I maintain my hope because I am inspired not only by Obama’s own words, but by the movement that has arisen in his wake. Tuesday night was historic not only because he was the first African-American man elected president of the United States, but because of the unprecedented celebration and joy at his election. Unprecedented in my lifetime, at least. I have never before witnessed people taking to the streets in celebration in the numbers that they did Tuesday night, and that itself is incredibly inspiring to me. To see people from many different communities, of different colors, genders, abilities, and ages, out on the streets together crying and hugging and cheering. To see them out there together sharing happiness and excitement with each other. I contrast these images with ones that have been more common in my lifetime: thousands of people on the street rioting, burning things and hurting each other. The celebration of Tuesday night around the world gives me hope that people can stop the violence of the past and recognize that they live together in a global community.

Obama is indeed a powerful leader to inspire this kind of excitement in people. My hope is that people will maintain their optimism about the future and their sense of connectedness with others, because that is how change will really happen. Yes, Obama will be in a position of power, where he can enact certain changes, but ultimately the change has to come from the people who recognize that we are all one community and who, most importantly, believe that change is possible.


A vote for Obama is a vote for peace

November 4, 2008

Today is the presidential election in the U.S. and I voted for Barack Obama. There are many reasons I did so, but I want to highlight the reasons most relevant to peace. Based on what Obama and McCain have each said and the various analyses of their positions, I believe that Obama will make much greater progress towards a peaceful world than McCain will.

One issue is fundamental human rights, including health care and the right to privacy. Obama’s health care plan is much more comprehensive and goes further towards providing coverage for more Americans than McCain’s does. Obama has pledged to protect women’s right to privacy in the arena of reproductive rights, and I’m confident that he will make efforts to reverse the damage done around the world by the global gag rule. In general, I believe that Obama is in touch with the needs of people whose rights are not being upheld, and McCain is not.

Another issue is economic security. Obama’s plans will allow more people to be economically secure and obtain jobs. This is very important, since conflict is most likely to arise when people are struggling to obtain basic necessities. Again, Obama has demonstrated through his words and his sincerity that he understands the hardships of these people, while McCain has shown himself to be deeply out of touch.

Finally, most directly related to peace, there is the war in Iraq and homeland security. Both Obama and McCain have pledged to end the war, but McCain emphasizes ending it “victoriously” while Obama emphasizes ending it “responsibly”.

In the area of homeland security, McCain primarily focuses on having a strong military. On his website, it states that “He knows that to protect our homeland, our interests, and our values – and to keep the peace – America must have the best-manned, best-equipped, and best-supported military in the world.” He also believes in strengthening our missile defense and increasing the size of the military. In other words, McCain believes and will act upon the idea that security is found in being the strongest, biggest, baddest kid on the block. I strongly disagree with this position.

On the other hand, Obama addresses a wide variety of approaches to security, including strengthening biosecurity, protecting information networks, improving our intelligence capacity, protecting civil liberties, protecting and modernizing our transportation infrastructure (including public transportation), supporting first responders to crises (who received budget cuts under Bush, supported by McCain), and preventing nuclear terrorism. It explicitly says on his website that “Barack Obama will show the world that America believes in its existing commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to work to ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons. Barack Obama fully supports reaffirming this goal, as called for by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn, and the specific steps they propose to move us in that direction. He has made clear that America will not disarm unilaterally.” Nuclear disarmament is critical to future peace and I am pleased that Obama supports it.

Obama has a much more well-rounded view than McCain on what it means to be secure. McCain seems to have a one-track mind, that the military is the end-all be-all of security, which is quite a frightening prospect. I want someone as president who has demonstrated that he is aware of the complexities and multi-faceted aspects of security, and I believe that Obama is that person.

It is true that Obama does not go far enough for my liking. Clearly he will be willing to use military force and I do not know how much he would hesitate before doing so. Will he try diplomacy, mediation, and other nonviolent techniques to resolve conflict first? I do not know. However, I think I can safely predict that McCain definitely would NOT hesitate to use force. I would much rather take a gamble that Obama will try other things than take the guarantee that McCain will not.

These are only some of the reasons that I believe Obama will make positive change. If you haven’t voted already, please go vote for Obama!


Costa Rica: a model for peace

September 26, 2008

Did you know that Costa Rica is one of only a few countries in the world without an army, and was the first to abolish the military, in 1948? As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, they are the seat of the University for Peace. Today, I came across this video about a “peace army” in Costa Rica:

They have actually changed the name from Peace Army to Academy for Peace, which I am pleased to see because the word “army” has militaristic connotations. Their mission statement is:

The mission of the Academy for Peace is to empower every Costa Rican child to pass the practice of BePeace to the next generation. The BePeace practice builds social and emotional intelligence through a combination of the HeartMath method for “feeling peace” and Nonviolent Communication for “speaking peace.” The powerful synergy between these two methods was discovered by our founder, Rita Marie Johnson.

To fulfill this mission, Academy for Peace trainers are implementing a national BePeace “train-the-facilitator” program in the public school system. These facilitators learn to train teachers, students and parents in the BePeace practice, with an emphasis on mediation as a way to resolve daily conflicts at school. This program is provided at no cost to the schools.

The work this organization does is incredibly inspiring to me. Their approach to peace combines the need for individuals to be aware of emotions and feelings with techniques of mediation and non-violent communication. They know that peace begins with the children, and their focus is on training teachers and children themselves in their approach called “BePeace.”

Peace is possible, and this organization is a reminder of that.