This is the blog that I had intended for the week that my dear friend Kevin died. It had been a little while since my last blog. But as my friend Dusty recently commented, what I lack in frequency I make up for in length. Consider yourself warned.
I’ve been in a bit of a debate with a very dear friend of mine over the past few days over some social/political comments that they made that surprised me. The comments did not seem to be in alignment with who I know them to be, and they have opened up some interesting conversation between us about what our beliefs are. Not coincidentally, as I was responding to an e-mail from them on this particular issue we were debating, I happened to be listening to John Mayer’s song, “Belief”. In it, he writes:
Is there anyone who
Ever remembers changing their mind from
The paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls
Ever breaking rank at all
For something someone yelled real loud one time
In how they think it ought to be
And they're not going easily
Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water
You never can hit who you're trying for
Our beliefs can be a volatile thing. As Mayer writes, “Belief is a beautiful armor, but makes for the heaviest sword”. I think what he’s saying there is, that our beliefs can be a wonderful protection from the stresses and challenges that life throws at us on a daily basis. It is when we try to impose our beliefs on others that we run into trouble.
“Everyone believes, and they’re not going easily.” When our need for others to agree with our beliefs becomes too strong, or when we are too threatened by others’ beliefs our debates escalate, as though yelling louder will make them agree with us. But, “is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking rank at all from something someone yelled real loud one time?” No. And when the yelling doesn’t work, we occasionally turn to violence. This is how wars begin. But, as Bertrand Russell said:
War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
Financial guru and self-help speaker T. Harv Ecker, talking about the difference between poor people and rich people, says that poor people have an either/or mentality – I can either have this or that; I can either buy these jeans or I can pay my electric bill. Rich people, on the other hand, have an and/both mentality. In every situation they ask themselves, “How can I have both of these?”
I’d like to suggest that we can take this same approach to our beliefs. The world does not have to be either this way or that way – it can almost always be and/both ways. In order to get there, we need to increase the amount of energy we put into asking ourselves, “How can this be both?”
As Americans, we are often very conscious of how rich we are financially as compared to the rest of the world. But how often do we acknowledge how rich we are in Freedom? Do we not have enough Freedom to spare? Can we not hold true to our beliefs, AND allow others the freedom to hold to their beliefs?
The final two lines of Mayer’s “Belief” are:
What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand? Belief can. Belief can.
What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand? Belief can. Belief can.
It seems a fair assumption here that Mayer is referring to the war in Iraq. I’m not here to debate the war in Iraq. I think Mayer’s point is worth considering in a broader sense; however, that holding too strongly to our beliefs to the point where we try to impose them on others comes at a great cost. And it is very easy to say that our beliefs are worth dying for when we are not the ones who are dying for them. It is very easy to say that it is acceptable that the rights of the few should be limited in order to increase the safety and security of the many when you are sure that you are one of the many, and not one of the few. I would just suggest that we be very careful about what precedent we set. One day we may find ourselves on the wrong end of that equation.
Are there some beliefs that are worth dying for? Yes. I think that there are. I’m not sure that, sitting here alone in the peace, quiet, and safety of my office I can tell you which ones they are for me. I suspect that that is a question that no one can truly answer until they are put to the test. What is interesting to me in our current paradigm is that the vast majority of us have not had to sacrifice much of anything over the past 60 years in order to impose our beliefs on the rest of the world, or on each other. War is something that most of us watch on television these days. Would our opinions change if we were the ones who had to look another human being in the eye and deny them their right to liberty? Their right to life? Or if we had to look a mother in the eye and ask her to sacrifice her child to defend our beliefs?
My friend has a right to their opinion, just as I do. I respect that. And I don’t need to change their opinion, any more than I expect that they’re going to change mine. I just hope that we can learn to allow each other the right to our own opinions without taking it personally, and without the need to prove one of us right and one of us wrong. Our founding fathers had a simple concept in mind for our country, and that was that my freedom ends where yours begins, and vice versa. Let’s allow each other the freedom to believe in how we think it ought to be.