Physician, heal thyself

March 22, 2007 by barbara

by Perhansa

After my guest post earlier this week, my wife and I had an intense conversation about current world events, our own accountability, and what, if anything we can or should do in response. She was kind enough to remind me, knowing me as well as she does, that I have a habit of stopping once I've reached the "insight" stage about many of the things I seem to care deeply about. Read more.

Neither of us attended the antiwar rally this past weekend and our regret at not having done that was part of our discussion. "Why didn't we attend?" You'd be justified in asking. For one, we were unaware of the rally until Saturday and had made other plans (not an excuse).

Secondly, neither of us had ever participated in an antiwar rally before (though we were both old enough during Vietnam) and political action like that would require new behavior on our part.

Third, we tend to be "mind your own business" and "don't get too involved" type of people, especially, if it is controversial (The Clothesline is the first blog to which I've written (Barbara's note: And look what happened!)

Fourth, both our families are filled with conservatives who voted for GWB (twice) and, though they know we didn't and don't support his policies, would be shocked if we took such an open and defiant stance on the war. Those were some of our initial (though not very compelling) unexcused excuses. I am now preoccupied with complicity and with change.

Advice from Dr. Phil

In a March 2006 speech at John Hopkins University, former USAF Lieutenant Colonel and middle east policy expert, Karen Kwiatkowski, in discussing how we should extricate ourselves from Iraq, used the analogy of a couple having relationship problems going to see Dr. Phil. "When you have a troubled relationship with a significant other, you can't just fix the 'other'. All you can really do is be honestly aware of what you have become, and then listen and learn the truth about your partner's situation'the only future we own, the only destiny we control, and the only change we can truly accomplish is our own."

As a nation, we are at the point we are because we were complicit by commission or omission. I need to ask myself: In what ways have I contributed to this? What have I done or not done? In what ways have I allowed my government to commit acts in my name of which I do not approve? In what ways have I funded the military machinery? In what ways have I accepted the erosion of values (like honesty, trust, self control, and accountability) and moral behavior in government?

I want my IRA to increase in value'"but at what cost? I want my family to be safe'"but at what cost? I want the price at the gas pump to stay below $3'"but at what cost? What nails have I sunk in the coffin of democracy and freedom? And what can I do to fix (or perhaps heal is a better word) myself?

Ms. Kwiatkowski goes on to argue that we cannot fix Iraq. We can only fix ourselves, and we are broken. We cannot bring democracy to someone else when it is dying on the vine in our own back yard. We cannot preach holier-than-thou platitudes to the world as we torture, violate international treaties, and occupy another country. We cannot talk about the Iraq government being more effective when our own is so dysfunctional. And it is still the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We own it (at least for now).

Clean-up In Aisle 3

In her writings, Karen Kwiatkowski has argued that the Pottery Barn analogy frequently tossed about by politicos on the left and right ("You break it, you own it") is just more of our arrogance and hubris. A better shopping analogy would be an errant customer or child causing a calamity at the grocery store and we hear the page over the intercom: "Clean-up in Aisle 3." The management of the store does not want our help cleaning up spilled applesauce. They will politely tell us to move out of the way and let them do what they must do themselves.

The sooner we get out of the way and let the Management of Iraq do their jobs, do the job they must do and want to do, the better off we'll all be. We have our own mess to clean up back home. There are messes in Aisle 3 aplenty in our own store. However, there really is no "we" in the Republic'"there is me and you and the neighbor next door and Grandma Marie and Uncle Ross, etc.

The Darkness Around Us Is Deep

I'm a big fan of the late poet and pacifist, William Stafford, and one of my favorite poems of his is A Ritual to Read to Each Other. For me, it's a poem about the difficulty and urgency of being honest and having integrity while balancing that with respect and humility for others who may not agree with you. It's also about the costs to everyone when we violate our values or vision out of fear or favor (or other motives). He writes:


If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world'

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park.
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

My wife has reminded me it's not enough to talk about the problems. I once complained to my aunt (a former school teacher and one of the few Dems in the family) about a particular problem and made the mistake of saying, "Somebody needs to do something about it." She looked me firmly in the eye and quickly replied, "Aren't you somebody?"

Yesterday, I called each and every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee (urged on by Barbara's blog) to voice my support for requiring testimony under oath from the Administration about the firing of the U.S. Atttorneys. It's a little thing, I know, but a start. I can only change myself. I can only be aware and act as appropriate for me. Others will have to do the same.

I have a heartfelt vision for what I want my country to be and I have to start doing more than talk about it. I need to be reminded of the end of William Stafford's poem, cited earlier:

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give'"yes or no, or maybe'"
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

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