The Ghosts of Violence & Our Better Angels | Weekend Wishes

On November 20th of this year the president opened his statement regarding Saudi Arabia thusly: “The world is a very dangerous place!

Was he fear-mongering? For all the gray surrounding him, he told his truth in that statement. I don’t think he was lying or exaggerating. I read the piece in its entirety. Some of it I believe was really him, and other parts were regurgitated points from those around him later polished.

At the same time, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sang years ago:

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now

Which is the real truth? Can they both be true? To find the answer, I suggest we consult the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Christmas Past

Photo by M. J. Richardson

Regarding The Great War, John McCrae Write the oft quoted, “In Flanders Field“:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high!

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

While this poem is beloved, I hold that starting with the third verse it’s a horrible way of looking at the world.

Saying that the next generation needs to pick up the torch for their war or be haunted is … pretty sucky. This poem came up with Veterans’ Day, and I think someone needs to write a better poem – one that encourages us to seek justice and peace.

One of my friends watched Gundam Wing and then wrote me saying he thought that if everyone in Capitol Hill watched it then we’d never go to war again.

War makes corporations money and they run the country, so why we would we expect it to ever end?

“Kill because someone got killed, and being killed because you killed. Would that really bring about true peace in the end?” —Cagalli Yula Athla, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

This quote is from a different Gundam series (one I like better), and I believe the answer is that more war doesn’t breed peace. That hatred isn’t something to heap on future generations.

Christmas Present

In 2011 a Harvard professor’s findings surprised me when he released research demonstrating that violence has become less prevalent than it was.

Here’s what Michael Shermer in Scientific American had to say about  The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinkerton:

The problem with anecdotes about single events is that they obscure long-term trends. Breivik and his ilk make front-page news for the very reason that they are now unusual. It was not always so.

“…Pinker told me in an interviewViolent deaths of all kinds have declined, from around 500 per 100,000 people per year in prestate societies to around 50 in the Middle Ages, to around six to eight today worldwide, and fewer than one in most of Europe.

“…Pinker told me: On average, nonstate societies kill around 15 percent of their people in wars, whereas today’s states kill a few hundredths of a percent.‘”

With the advent of a 24 news cycle we’re more aware of violence: “if it bleeds, it leads”. We’re more focused on violence because it piques our interest more than stories of the mundane.

Shermer begins his piece by urging us to “[be] skeptical of claims that we live in an ever more dangerous world“. It seems our better angels are … getting better.

Christmas Future

I don’t believe in a particular creed, though I do my best to live a principled life. I believe in a set of principles and I draw inspiration from a variety of religions and science. In simpler terms: I am a Unitarian Universalist.

The seven principles I hold true, along with the few who stand by me (though we can claim historical greats):

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person
  2. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations
  3. The free and responsible search for truth and meaning
  4. The encouragement of others to spiritual growth
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
  7. The interconnected web of existence, of which we are all a part

Not a perfect quote of their website, but it’s how I remember them.

There was a speaker, or maybe an article in the UU World years ago, that told a story. I believe the person got on a plane wearing a shirt that said something about the inherent worth of every person. The attendant said to the person, “You haven’t made me feel worthy and dignified”. The person apologized and struck up a bit of conversation with the attendant. The end result was – we’re not there yet, but we’re trying.

Even if I fail these principles at times, I still believe in them. Even if I lose sight of my best self, I still come back to these ideals and try harder to make a world where they are true.

I don’t want to convert you. Besides these principles I rarely discuss any theology or other religious beliefs. We each experience being human differently. As part of the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”, I don’t have to believe the same thing as you to be interested in what you have to say.

My meandering point is this: war might not be over completely, but if we start to believe it is not an option then we will work toward a better resolution. War is just really bad conflict resolution on an international scale.

My Wish for You

I hope you’ll look at the stars and find your bearings: I hope you’ll remember who you are inside and work toward making a better world.

My wish for the world is for less suffering, for healthy food and clean water to be easily available for everyone, and that people feel safe.

My wish is that violence will become a distant ghost and we will instead embrace our better angels.

What do you hope the future will bring? What are your wishes? I’m no genie, but I’ll listen!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Amanda Cade says:

    This is a such a thought provoking post, with a great message. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aww. Thank you so much for reading it! I really appreciate it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. alicegristle says:

    Strange, I always thought “In Flanders Field” was a pacifist poem… without actually ever reading it. Good to see one’s (positive) prejudices proven wrong once! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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