Losing has beneficial purposes in our life. It teaches us humility – one of the most important of spiritual values – usually at the very right time we need to learn it. Losing measures our commitment to our cause: do we pick ourselves up and try again, or withdraw into the safe prison of our failure? Losing opens up our bullheadedness that often shuts out needed perspectives and input of others. It tells us perhaps we did not have all the information, all the sufficient planning, needed. Or it reminds us that sometimes a good idea is offered at an inappropriate moment (too early or too late) to an audience not ready to receive it; we need to properly seed the garden of our ideas in order for them to grow. Ultimately, people may have a better idea, or maybe just a different one than ours, or there is simply more of “them” than “us.”
In the political realm, the big question for us is when do we decide to continue the fight and keep banging away at our objective – losing the battle but continuing the war unendingly? Or when do we recognize that the war has been lost, and give the battle up to a new day? Continuing the battle or continuing the suffering is to postpone getting to the new place that awaits us.
War is often a good example of this question. Near the close of the American Civil War, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered his generals to scatter the troops into the dense woods and mountains to henceforth fight a continual guerilla war. Generals Lee and Johnston, seeing firsthand the sacrificial killing taking place, disobeyed the order. They wisely said “enough is enough” and surrendered to Union generals Grant and Sherman respectively. Japan was prepared to die to the last man/woman/child to defend the homeland at the end of World War II. Two atomic bombs – at a horrible price – led the Japanese Emperor to instead choose surrender in order to avoid the inevitable loss of millions of lives on both sides.
Today we are suffering across the globe from an unwillingness to accept new realities that are upon us, unwilling to accept that things have not gone our way. The State of Israel has been a reality in Palestine for almost 70 years; as well, the need for a permanent homeland for displaced Palestinians remains; years of killing and vengeance by both sides over past grievances have not changed those realities. Conversely, hundreds of years of English domination of Ireland finally ended 90 years ago. But it took 70 more years for tensions in Northern Ireland to finally end with a recognition that peace outweighed long memories of persecution. It took 30 years to end the ostracizing of Communist China by recognizing the reality of its government in place; 50 years to accept that blockading Cuba was accomplishing nothing but the continual suffering of its citizens. The time comes when accepting reality takes precedence over maintaining illusions and wishful thinking from the past.
Nothing is intended to remain the same, ever. In America, we suffer – long after their expiration dates – unproductive longings for past stories that never fully were. And we usually have highly imaginative fictional memories about the past we are trying to hang onto. The past is past for a reason – the good ol’ days weren’t really always that good! They had their good moments, certainly, but not everyone shared in those good experiences; they existed side-by-side with some really not so nice times. Life in the Leave-it-to-Beaver household did not resemble many households across America. And that gap of lifestyle, economic opportunity, and equal justice exploded in full view in the turbulence of the 1960s.
Today, the calendar reads “2016.” Yet it increasingly feels like we are in a time-warped moment back to our past that is robbing us of noble accomplishment. A half-century ago, equal voting rights for all citizens was affirmed. The limited right to abortion under defined guidelines was affirmed. Equal rights of property ownership and employment reward for women has been continually legally affirmed over the years. Protecting our environment and the cleanliness of air and water was charged to the EPA. Medicare made a giant leap forward towards extending medical care to those who need it.
Each of these decisions (and others) are under new attacks seeking to reverse these realities. Issues that many of us thought were long settled are back on the table facing new assaults amid echoes of old debates. They often have different rallying names: Voter Id (versus poll tax); Obamacare (versus Medicare); same-sex marriage (versus inter-racial marriage); gays in the military (versus Blacks in the armed forces); women’s equal pay (versus women’s equal pay!). Why are we still having these old, repetitive conversations?
We have many serious new issues on our collective plates today. International terrorism; violence in the sanctity of schools and churches; broken political promises; energy demands serviced from destructive sources; illegal immigration with good people living in shadows; unequal application of justice; economic stagnation and disparity of wealth and income; unaffordable medical care. All of these suffer from a lack of proper attention due to the distraction of pursuing old fights from our past. Certainly we should remember our past, because there are important lessons to be learned from those experiences. But we should not live today as if it were the past, because the world has moved on and will continue to do so.
When a vote is taken, a decision has been made. Children intuitively continue to wail as their desires go unmet. As adults we are supposed to know better, having learned to compromise with others of a differing view in order to find better, more broadly accommodating solutions. We can fight the good fight fair and ethically by the rules of the community. But after the dice have been rolled, the cards have been played, the poll has been tallied, a future course is now set. “Today” has been newly defined, and we need to get on board and sail on the same ship, working together, each giving his/her best contribution. There is a time to debate, argue, and fight for opinions. Then there comes a time to accept and move on. None of us wins all; all of us win some.
In the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1788, there were hard-fought arguments of deep beliefs from good, principled people on both sides on whether to adopt the new United States Constitution. Delegate Benjamin Swain spoke to the convention regarding his feelings on being on the losing side. Swain reflected that “the Constitution had had a fair trial and there had not … been any undue influence exercised to obtain the vote in its favor. Many doubts which lay on my mind had been removed.” And although he was in the minority, “I should support the Constitution as cheerfully and as heartily as though I had voted on the other side of the question.” It was a position not just of magnanimity, but it was also a principle that is essential for democratic government to succeed: after a fair hearing and honest vote, the decision is thereby made and all must come together to make the decision work.
It is now 2016, not 1968. We are well past the time for moving on from a past time that was never exactly as we remember.
© 2016 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com