My animal survival instinct and my human ego tell me that my life (and the safety of my family) is more important than yours - but my soul tells me that it is not.
There I've said it. Is that raw enough? Doesn't that really sum up the reason that we consider going to war? That we kill each other in the streets; that we continue to fight over food, economic policies…over anything?
If you have read my previous articles you know I usually approach parenting as it pertains to my young daughter. Well, during the recent crisis in Syria, I have had many discussions with my spiritual, peace loving, twenty year old nephew. One struck me as odd and we played it out until the wee hours of the morning. He, like me and so many spiritual people, has been praying intently for a peaceful, non-violent resolution to the Syrian situation. He has visceral reactions at the thought of us intervening in another country with even targeted attacks, and he is adamant in his agreement that violence would beget more violence.
On this night, we discussed our shared feelings that no "collateral damage" is acceptable as well as our wish that there was a way to break the cycle of war to end tyranny. We talked about how past acts like what is going on in Syria, that have gone unchecked by the international community, have come back to haunt the world when they became mass genocide later. But we both, again, stated wishes that we lived in a world where there were other viable answers than more violence. We acknowledged that there are no easy answers and stated that we didn't envy any of the leaders and their decisions at this time; especially given the thought about retaliation if our government did decide to act with strikes.
And that's when he surprised me.
As the conversation turned toward the long term effects of waging violence against others and what happens when we continue to anger the rest of the world with our interventions and potentially have aggression toward our own soil….his demeanor and attitude changed. He is all about peace until he feels his own safety and security threatened. He almost became hawkish as he talked about protecting our soil at all costs. I gently began asking him questions, trying (mindfully) not to make his opinions wrong, about where he draws a line of difference. He stated that this is "our land" and "our people" and so we must protect them.
I asked him what border makes it "ours" - is it our lawn, our street, our state, our country, our continent, or hemisphere? I even posited that, within my understanding of "We Are All One" from Conversations with God, to me, "our" includes every human on earth as an equal and undivided part of me. With this in mind, we either love and protect, to the extent possible, every person on earth equally or we give up that façade and we try a different approach.
See, like most of you, I don't know the answers to these burning questions. I don't know how to end violence in the world. I hope and believe that the spiritual and prayerful push of the last week and a half had an effect: on John Kerry's off-hand remark, the Russian encouragement and the Syrian apparent acquiescence to a possible chemical disarmament (try to say that 10 times fast). But I cannot walk around feeling that American lives are superior and deserve to be protected above other lives. I cannot, as much as I love my daughter, my nephew and my husband, carry a gun to protect them at the cost of killing another person. I just cannot value one life over another. I haven't fully decided where self-defense fits in with spirituality (although I have been confronted with situations in which I knew I would not kill to protect myself) but we have to start somewhere to shift the paradigm away from violence. Someone has to be willing to "put the weapon down" and talk…And intelligence and diplomacy have to stop looking like weakness.
In the end, I may not have changed my nephew's mind about protecting "us" at all costs. But I am hoping that on some level I have helped him to begin exploring a new level of the concept, understanding and application of "We Are All One."
Originally printed on The Global Conversation Online Newspaper, (2013). All Rights Reserved.