Recent events, along with the past years of conflict, emphasize again we are at a crossroads. Highlighting our inability to solve disagreements without killing, has reinforced words and phrases into our everyday language. ‘Freedom of expression,’ ‘innocent,’ and none more so, than ‘terrorism.’ From the French, terrorisme, by way of the Latin root word, terror, meaning ‘to fill with fear; to frighten,’ we are not amid a new struggle, but an ancient battle.
Stripping away the layers, conflicts and wars staged by individuals, groups, or governments, are not centered around religion or resources, as some want us to believe—but rights—and our perceptions of what actions we feel entitled to take, when ‘rights’ as we define them, are negatively impacted. The English language nicely supports these concepts, with the correctness of ‘right’ and the entitlement of ‘rights,’ providing an appropriate foundation on which to base our arguments.
However noble these may sound, history is littered with the debris resulting from the choices of the powerful and less so to define and defend their rights; often by attack, not defense. The naming of most wars (the American War of Independence being an exception), says little about what rights were contested. Instead, we condense the conflicts into the most casual terms we can create—Names, such as, the seven years’ war, thirty years’ war, hundred years’ war, first Gulf war, second Gulf war, etc., provide little insight, but were fought with some vigor over perceptions of rights.
If the ‘first casualty of war is truth,’ unless conflict is settled quickly, it is followed by the sacrifice of the moral high ground and common sense, as opponents become attritional in their approach and losses to non-combatants increase and become acceptable. The tipping point is when we turn a word into an ‘ism,’ and something changes in our ability to problem solve. What began with clarity, purpose, and vision; paralyzed by uncertainty and indecision. In desperation, we continue on the same course, seeking solutions by applying the same methods. How often are we told we must stay the course? What is most at risk is not the fading positive outcome, but the hope of finding one at all—we are captive and creativity dies.
Why does this happen? Rights themselves are not the problem—it’s the destructive cycles we create, where we become helpless and lost. We see it in alcoholism and drug addiction—we see it in the conversation in America over the right to bear arms, where neither side of the argument wants to see the death of innocent children—yet the only common ground we have found is our shared mourning.
Is that it then? Are we stuck with conflicts we can’t solve because they are too big; too complicated? Shall we pass the burden of finding solutions to future generations or is there an alternative? There have been times where we have overcome the seemingly impossible and history demonstrates the answers won’t always arrive from the obvious. In science, Galileo, Einstein, and others, imagined. In peacemaking, Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King marched the path of peace through non-violence. Each challenged entrenched thoughts and beliefs—each released themselves from the captivity of negative cycles that stifled creative solutions. None created science-ism or peace-ism.
Free speech? It doesn’t exist—nor does free action, because there are costs and consequences to all our words and deeds. What we do have is the freedom to choose what they will be, and to honor the lost innocents of Peshawar, in American schools; of all those suffering in conflicts, by loosening the bonds that keep us away from the most important right we can give ourselves and each other—the right to be free from fear.
Somewhere, people are working on solutions. They may not be in government offices, boardrooms, or wearing uniforms, but imagining what it would be like to be riding alongside a beam of light—illuminating our way out of the darkness. Perhaps we should listen.