Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lessons from Terrorists

(Annie Leibovitz's photo of Pete Seeger 
and his banjo/hate crushing machine, from hilobrow.com)

Recently, friend and I were talking about the news. She had found herself absorbed by in-depth coverage of various horror spots of the world in the past few weeks. 

And, like most people who do so, her rapt attention slowly ceded to questions of if knowing all the available facts about violently-faith-based guerilla executions in France, about the deep harm racism causes in this country, about global temperature records being newly broken every year, if knowing all this news makes a difference.

I don’t know. Listening to the news doesn’t seem like much of a way to work for change. Listening, reading, being informed, even worrying in the night, seems so passive, and this news—this terrifying constant news—makes us want to rise up out of our seats, storm the castle and end the madness.

I don’t like the word “terrorist,” but as I can’t come up with some better term for these agents of sporadic, focused, devastating violence, it’s the word I’ll use.

We would do well to learn from these terrorists. Not in the sense of vengeance and violence, but in their manner of shaking up the world by of being small independent cells of individuals who are devoted to, but loosely affiliated with, a set of unifying ideals. Part of what makes the world seem scarier—other than overlistening to the news—is the idea that the terror and violence could come from anywhere. “Enemies” are no longer swathed in flags or behind iron curtains and cement walls.

And so, I believe that heroes are no longer to be found covered stoically in brass buttons or wearing capes or riding high white horses and protecting people like shepherds or inhuman angels. As the threats become more nuanced and personal, so too must the heroes, the solutions, the progress evolve into something growing and curling with shoots and branches and tendrils.

If terrorists can be home-grown lone-wolves, so can those of us who would have the world be better than it is. I have to trust that there are more people out there who want and believe in peace than who want and believe in violence. To think otherwise is fodder for those who would use fear as a weapon.

Guerilla acts of peace, carried out by passionate individuals loosely affiliated with ideals of human rights and world salvage, will not make headlines. But I believe that this is exactly what we must do, all of us, everywhere, every every minute.

And that is as pat and impractical piece of advice as possible. Being kind won’t stop a bullet or shut down a power plant, for example. But, we’re no longer in a world of one-to-one exchanges, of eye for an eye and vengeance Or if we are, I want to make a new one out of different materials. The opposing sides don’t march out to battle on a field. It is, entirely, regime and ethos change that we’re after. And, in that, being kind and doing all those small and daily acts that bring joy and love into the world, that affirm that all lives matter, that align the personal with the political…it does all add up to make a difference.

When it feels like your little actions—unplugging the dryer, smiling at strangers, telling people you love them, joining a CSA, lobbying for legislation, marching in the streets, whatever it is that you can do to put love into the world—are teensy drops in the bucket, think of this: you are part of something bigger than yourself. It helps, I find, to feel like I am part of a secret revolution, full of sleeper agents and unmet friends. Doing good is the password. Whenever I see solar panels, I either tear up or grin my face off, reminded that others are in this as well. We give each other strength and ballast with all our actions.

I believe—because I want to believe—that love is stronger than fear. It is slower, it does not make the headlines or trend on social media, but it is eternal. Our revolution doesn’t need to be secret, of course, but neither does it need to be televised to be effective.  Let’s have a revolution waged—daily—by peaceable guerillas who are loosely affiliated with and united by our faith in the world and each other.

That is the best news I can think of.

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