And the one who most needs to change is me.
Lao Tsu said a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Well, I took that first step a long time ago. Then another, and another, and another, each leading me closer to here.
The funny thing is, where I am today isn’t where I was headed when I set out.
I never intended to get caught up in the state of our nation or the way people treat each other. Sure, I had my own ideas on the subject — marching to a different drummer probably best describes it — but they were primarily for my consumption.
NEVER did I want to impose my views or values on others, though I readily admit I did relish serving as Devil’s Advocate to challenge those whose blinders kept them from seeing the value of any position on a subject other than their own.
Instead, my thing was simply to live and let live — to go my own way, even when it meant resisting doing what anyone tried to make me do.
Stubborn wasn’t a strong enough word. Pig-headed doesn’t do it justice, either. Just plain stupid is probably more like it, especially at those times when going along didn’t just mean keeping the peace, but serving myself as well.
Once, in law school, my hair was getting kinda long. Down on my shoulders and then some (in the front, even). Not exactly the clean-cut look an aspiring lawyer (NOT) was expected to present. Looking back, embracing common norms or expectations wasn’t part of my make-up. As Springsteen said, “When they said sit down, I stood up.”
My father, being the sort who wasn’t shy about sharing his opinion on the subject of my hair, tried to bribe me to cut it, offering me a $1,000.
That’s a lot of money now. But back then, wow, was I dumb. To put it in Wall Street terms, that could have completely changed my financial position.
I held my ground and let my freak flag fly. Too bad, too. Because two weeks later, I cut it on my own. No money. No hair. No good feelings for doing something that made my parents smile.
All I had was the satisfaction of not selling out what I wanted or believed in.
So what’s that got to do with changing the world?
For a few years now I’ve been trying to get people to see that taking sides in the political battles was counterproductive. It pitted people against each other, fighting fights that didn’t need to be fought while the foxes were raiding the hen house (you can see I like my metaphors).
Worse, I’ve long seen that you can’t create a lasting peace through conflict, no matter how well-meaning the struggle. Sure, the shooting may stop for a while, but that doesn’t mean people are really ready to get along.
The problem is, I didn’t walk my talk.
I trained in conflict my whole life. Martial arts. Argumentation. Persuasion.
And yes, resistance to the will of others. It wasn’t just a game, it was an adventure!
So here I’ve been, trying to illuminate a path to peace in hopes of getting people to change the way we conduct our affairs.
But just like with my dad, when I had to come to the conclusion on my own that I didn’t really like having long hair any more anyway, people have to come to the realization on their own that they’re tired of the fighting and not getting along, and want to find another way.
Until then, the situations that pit them against each other will continue to escalate. Tempers will flare. Costs will rise. And the scars of battle will increase.
Then one day, they’ll look in the mirror and decide enough is enough — they don’t want to live this way any more.
I can talk until I’m blue in the face telling you what I see. But until you’re ready, you won’t be able to hear it. At best it will go in one ear and out the other. At worst, you’ll redirect your anger at me as if my suggestion at choosing peace as both desired end and the means to get there is tantamount to sacrificing your first-born child for a cause you don’t believe in.
So forgive me if I consider keeping those opinions to myself — if I can — and concentrate on helping individuals get through the mess while suggesting ways they might bring a little more peace to their own lives.
After all, who am I to deny anyone the thrill of going to war, whether with the fat cats on Wall Street, the politicos in Washington, or anyone else who gets in their way or who doesn’t act or think the way they’d like?
That change must start with me. I’ve got to accept that some people just aren’t happy unless they’ve got someone to fight with and something to fight over.
And there’s not a darned thing I can do about it until they’re ready to stop.
Just like with me and my hair, there’s not enough money in the whole world to make them quit before then. So I might as well find my own peace by letting them fight to their hearts’ content.
If you’re one of them, enjoy your battles. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even win some of them.
In the meantime, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the show.
John Dennison is a lawyer, peacemaker and problem solver who addresses the challenges of a world locked in chaos and conflict. An engaging speaker, author, and publisher of PeaceOptions.com, he shares perspectives on how people can move through the problems in a better way to make a difference in their lives and world. To get his free newsletter or have him speak to your group, visit him at JohnDennison.com