4/5/11

Which came first, the need to fight for a cause or the cause?

Being a feisty Latina growing up in New York City, taking sides and fighting for a cause has been part of my identity for as long as I can remember. Just recently I found that taking sides can be more part of the problem, than the solution. When I was a teenager I read the book 50 Simple Things YOU Can Do to Save the Earth and my life all of the sudden had meaning. I went around turning off faucets, writing letters to congress, and giving speeches about water consumption at my high school. This is funny to me now, but back then it literally hurt to see water being wasted. I talked, slept, ate trying to save the world. How amazing it felt to be part of something, but more importantly it felt great to feel on the 'right side'. Later on, I saw a video of a cow being slaughtered and the whole fight instinct rose up in me again, and as before the most important piece I was walking away with was the knowing that I was ultimately on the 'right side'. Yearly, I would pick a new cause to fight for and not once during those years did I question my methods. Only when I began to read Buddhist authors, and about the nature of peace did I begin to see how "fighting for something" as war itself. I learned that as long as these is a battle, a war, two sides, a good and a bad, these will not be resolution to any conflict.

If we look at the ultimate nature of war, it's about being on a side, and most importantly the identity we get from feeling we are on the 'right side'. Each side believes firmly they are right and on they bump their heads in battle until one of them either tires or dies. One of the characteristics that seems attractive to 'followers of a cause' is an unwavering warrior. As much as I disagreed with his policies, Bush was an unwavering warrior. I understand his attraction to people. He picked a side and fought without ever looking back. The guy did not flinch once, even when they whole world thought he should change his mind, he kept on staying on his side and fighting strong. Similarly, Michele Rhee is attractive to parents for this same reason, she was even pegged a "warrior woman' (as pegged by Oprah). Her unwavering and unfortunate charge against teachers is attractive to people who need to see their leaders take a strong decisive stand. Unfortunately, people who are attracted to warriors, often don't care who or what they fight, as long as they are fighting. It's not about the cause anymore, it;s about the motion of fighting that's attractive here.
Another form of this idea of "taking sides for the sake of taking sides" can be seen in Nationalism. Have you ever seen the bumper stickers that read, "God Bless America"? My question every time I see these ridiculous stickers is, "Why just America?". Why not the rest of the world? Why should only Americans be blessed by God? Don't other humans on other parts of the world deserve what we think only we deserve? Or should only a select few deserve them? Perhaps in taking away Nationalism we also take away the identity that has calcified around it, and that can be hard to do, for who are we then without our labels? Becoming a mother has been life-changing for me. Once I had a child and experienced the enormously beautiful and pure love coming from you towards this tiny being, you come to understand that parents all over the world must feel this same pure and precious love; not JUST Americans. People in Gaza feel this way for their babies, people in Tibet, people in North Korea.....all of the sudden I know them all intimately. I love being an American, but I am first a human being. I much more prefer 'God bless all beings'.

So how do we fix problems then if we don't take sides? How do we 'fight' against what we believe to be wrong and not have it feed us our entire identity? How do we not get lured down the easy path of wanting to feel 'we are on the right side?' and still do the right thing. Here are some guidelines I now try to follow whenever I see a wrong that needs to be fixed.

1. Humanize it: We almost always dehumanize the 'other side' in order to justify being harsh ourselves. Once you are aware of this you will see it everywhere....How many movies are out there that can be classified as revenge movies? I could go onto Netflix right now and find 100 'violence-justified' movies in less than 2 minutes. These movies set up their storyline to later justify using violence and killing. If our true goal is finding a solution we need to see the other side reasonably and always trying to understand their reasoning, their intentions. In war, it's so incredibly easy to toss our hands up in the air and claim they are all animals, but only in seeing the world through their eyes do we hold the key to true peace. An amazing movie that parallel our dehumanization of the OTHER is District 9. Amazing movie; a must watch.

2. Is it who I am ? If it feels so good being on 'the right side', we are then deriving an identity from it, in which case we need there to be a fight for us to feel right. How anti-productive is that? We are addicted to the very thing we are trying to abolish.

3. Live your priority. Right now in my life, raising our kids ourselves is our priority. So as much as I would love to go to see Diane Ravitch speak in New York, or protest with fellow teachers in WIsconsin, or start an arts school, no one else is going to raise them with the same love as I can give them. They experience the magic of youth only once and then they are grown and gone. I am not about to miss that for anyone or any cause.

4. Come to the table with win-win solutions. In seeing the other side's intentions one needs to then incorporate what their needs are into the solution in addition to your own needs. Again, we see half solutions that work only for one side all over; by their very nature, they will not last. The business education reformers who are trying to fix education today forgot to include teachers in their equation, making it a half solution. Half solutions only feel right to one side and totally disregard what the needs of the other side may be. These type of solutions require you to see the other side as human though, and that you minimally converse with them to get their side. This one is particularly important in keeping marriage working right. If it's always only one partner's needs that are addressed, eventually things fall apart. One must seek a win-win solution to both sides in order to end any conflict. Half solutions never last, and may even cause greater pain.
5. Watch your body: Spewing anger, yelling, and losing control of our emotions are all essentially part of 'war'. Do you have war in you? Often we say we want peace yet we carry war in us in the way we talk, and in our voices? We can believe and strongly fight for something yet still remain calm. In fact, it takes a much stronger will to remain calm than to go off the wall, losing our calm. As a parent I make it a habit of not engaging angry words. Then I started applying that rule to grown ups. There is no sense engaging a raging bull, just walk away. No solutions will ever come from it anyway. When my daughter yells commands at me, I say, "Talk like a big girl", we should try applying that to adults too.

6. Bang away. Have you ever gone off on someone and it felt great? I have; way too many times. Did it solve anything? NEVER. I am one of those people that just likes a good battle, regardless of the cause, I am unfortunately drawn to taking sides, for it feeds me. I work hard to curb this and to pull away and look at what I am really fighting for so as to not blindly fight for the sake of fighting. Most of the time it's the need to fight that drives us to build up conflict. when it should really be the other way around. Have you ever been in a bad mood and all of the sudden you get in an argument with someone? which came first, the need to argue, or the reason? Have you ever watched the military channel? We continuously invent amazingly sophisticated machines to help is kill people in all sorts of innovative and creative ways. With all this new innovation and money going into creating pumped up killing machines, you think we really want peace?

I will end this post with a story from one of my favorite self-help authors, Byron Katie. She tells a story of a client who came to her claiming she was an activist who could not live without thinking of her cause. She was essentially being constantly haunted by thoughts of the injustices being done in the world as she walked around free, undisturbed by these injustices in her own life. Byron looked at her and told her that in essence she was living with these injustices minute by minute; for she was herself in war. She explained that she would be no help to her cause while she personified war in her heart. To be more effective in fighting these injustice she would have to have inner peace first.

Therefore, before we take on any worthy cause, we must first calm our own minds, bodies, thoughts and voices; at least if we truly mean to find an end to the conflict.

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