20 March 2008

Patience is a virtue

There's a life lesson for all of us that Barack Obama has been trying to explain. In so doing, he offers more than slogans, he represents an opportunity. Some of us grasp his lesson intuitively, some of us learn it through our own experiences, and others rely on pithy phrases, such as "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water." The lesson is about the power of, and increasingly urgent need for, forgiveness. A leader needs more than patience, compassion, and forgiveness, (and the Senator clearly has extensive, well-articulated, widely documented plans,) but this acceptance and willingness to forgive is arguably the cornerstone of Barack Obama's personal philosophy, which he is translating into a political call to action.

Anger is valid; it's real. Yet if we cling to the offenses of the past, if we use them to justify escalation, if we prefer old quarrels over the opportunity to move forward, we are wasting time. Anger cannot be allowed to flourish and grow - down that path there is nothing but escalation.

The wisest parents know this, though even they sometimes forget. Nobody's perfect. When you're dealing with human beings it is often necessary to separate the actions (or words) from the person. When a child makes a mistake should you love the child less? Their behavior may be wrong - unacceptable - but that doesn't ordinarily equate to loving them less. We all make mistakes.

Presidents make mistakes. If Hillary Clinton could not separate her husband's actions from who he is as a man, if she could not forgive him, the scandals that rocked his presidency would have been their downfall as a couple. Hillary took some heat for this, she still does; there are those who say his mistake was too egregious to forgive, but Mrs. Clinton distinguishes what her husband has done from who he is.

We have all been wronged.

When wrongs are committed by institutions it is our collective moral obligation to respond by standing firm and changing that structure, up to and including abolishing the institution and/or its influence over people.
"...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
When a transgression is committed by an individual, acting not as part of some larger whole but out of their own, momentary will, the needful responses are less clear. The commission of a crime against one person or their property impacts and diminishes us all. Centuries of practice have not resulted in wisdom adequate to forecast and codify the proper response(s) sufficiently to remove human judgment from the exercise of justice.

Human experience has taught us that we must, at times, find a way to get beyond even the most horrific actions. Where would we be today if the people of Japan could not separate the nuclear holocaust that ravaged their nation at the conclusion of World War II from the people who undertook those actions - if they pursued to this day some form of retribution for the deaths of innocent relatives, defining that as justice? Most if not all vibrant religions and widely embraced philosophies have incorporated a, "turning the other cheek," and forgiveness based on understanding and acceptance of transgressions as a fundamental tenet.

The studious observation of teaching, particularly parenting, has taught us the value of distinguishing the actors from their actions. One need not rely on religious pronouncements to agree that unacceptable behavior must have consequences associated with it. Yet if we did not allow for any possibility that most people can and do learn from experience, that they will grow, and improve, it follows there would be no point in lessons, patience, or ever trying to foster development. No child is a failure simply because they haven't yet mastered tying their shoes, controlling their bladder, or long division. In most circumstances it is efficacious and appropriate to reserve our judgment(s) for a person's words and deeds, distinguishing that explicitly from judging them, no matter how much consternation their actions cause.

That is Barack Obama's message; it resonates through everything he advocates. He is right in renouncing Reverend Jeremiah Wright's most excessive, divisive, and inflammatory rhetoric, which has particularly aided those those who seek to perpetuate divisions based on skin color, yet Barack is righteous to abstain from judging, or rejecting, the man. That is the Audacity of Hope that Obama's supporters understand and cherish.

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