I finished an essay last evening for my Spiritual Activism Course; it’s entitled Blessings: The Beginning of Conflict Resolution. Here are some excerpts:
What is the root cause of conflict? Perhaps that is too large a topic to explore in a brief essay; What instead is the essential component of peace? When we hone peace to its “beginnings”, what do we find at the core? In many languages, a curse is considered the most powerful utterance available. Unfortunately, curses (or the words of conflict in general) also seem to be readily translatable into all dialects (and, for that matter, our curses are translated into the “language of nature” as our ideas and action have direct bearing on the environment). From local disagreement between individuals to vast conflicts between nations, the world is inundated with curses; yet, despite the richness of language, we lack ready words for harmony. This is partially a linguistic barrier; however, there is also little overarching structure that reaches across languages and ideologies to fill a common human need for blessing. I submit that most conflict is essentially language based and the point beyond a curse is often conflict.
My supposition for this is based on the economy of communication in which we now live. We do, of course, have physical struggles over resources and territory (there is extensive literature on land and resource based conflict which I will not necessarily delve into here. My concern is to address conflict at a root ideological base). However, our primary means of interaction is in the realm of ideas or, to put a slightly different shade on it, our interaction is based on information rather than ideas per se. We are inundated with information but few of us are empowered to make careful use of this information to form sensible ideas. These ideas, or ideas partially formulated by the information barrage, translate into actions. Those who hold power over language touch the fate everyone who listens. For example, Osama Bin Laden does not have vast political or military power behind him; however, with a few words transmitted via video and print, he is able to influence the lives and ideas of many. Equally, an infectious language of fear outlines the response of all involved (this, ironically, while we are in many ways safer and more secure in our overall lives than at any time in human history). International agencies of state are primarily concerned with diplomatic protocol and economic development; non-state agencies are often strictly issue focused and do not readily bridge over the fissures caused by ideological conflict. Lost between the two is the opportunity for individuals to speak for the common good of all. Though this common good will, of course, involve economic and territorial agreements, there is an underlying sense of blessing often missing from the accord reached through state negotiation. What we see broadcast on television and printed in newspapers has little to do with a shared sense of blessing. How often is there a sense that two groups have gone beyond a survival based agreement (I promise not to bomb you if you promise not to bomb me) to one based on genuine equality? How often are these agreements reached because of the strong-arm intervention of a third party? There is usually a willingness to compromise for survival’s sake. However, the willingness to give and receive a blessing is central to substantially ending discord; though agreements may be reached through fear and the might of a third-party may keep rioters off the street, the healing power of a blessing is equally or more potent in preventing or resolving conflict.
Let us begin with an exploration of what a blessing is; as the word is understood differently between languages and contexts, it’s often a difficult concept to come to full terms with. To a religious adherent, a blessing may have connotations of providence and divine approval. To the secular mind, the term is likely to have more of a social bearing. . .
And then I go on for several paragraphs about the components of a blessing, but will sum up with dot points:
What are the common elements of blessing that might connect dissimilar people?
- There is a genuine wish for goodwill; this is the simplest precept of cultural and personal interaction.
- Blessings require a recipient (who may or may not be willing to receive).
- [Blessings] require a means of transmission (mutually understood language; again, not necessarily spoken or written language, but both parties must have a means of communication). Beyond merely wishing goodwill, we must have a method of communicating it in a way others understand.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, blessings require a hope for the future. Without a sense that there will be resolution and renewal, there is little motivation for blessing. Fortunately, one of humankind’s most enduring qualities seems to be the capacity for hope.
To make these connexions presupposes some knowledge of “the other” (or at least a willingness to pursue understanding). It also requires a recognition of parity; both parties must come on equal footing to the place of blessing. There must be an acknowledgement of the humanity of both parties or the blessing becomes objectified (or merely a means to an end). Blessings should be given from equal to equal (not simply from the well-off to those in poverty, for example). Most people will readily voice a blessing to “those poor people down in Country X”. However, when it comes to understanding the real human situation of those same poor people seeking better economic stability and etc., the blessing seems to get lost in the shuffle; such blessings tend to have many footnotes and amendments. One can easily give a blessing based on expediency; as mentioned above, there are often peace accords for the sake of convenience where the parties agree for economic or political reasons to end conflict. However, the test of a blessing is whether both parties are willing to accept, with the complexities and foibles, the humanity of all involved. This recognition is the underlying impetus to communication; if one recognises life as the prime requisite for blessing rather than an expectation of reward, then there is the hope of resolution. . .
. . .People on the margins are the first to hear the language of conflict—sometimes in whispers, sometimes in screams. But when language turns people to violence, those without a voice to respond are often those who are silenced permanently. Also, we (from the perspective of a Westerner) increasingly speak the language of fear. The language of fear can quickly become the language of curses and conflict; at that point, we are all on the margins. When our communication is charged with fear, curses, and conflict, there is little difference between rich and poor; we are equally at risk of open violence. This is not a change we are prepared for and I believe the effects of it will come rather suddenly (or, unfortunately, too quickly for society to gain an understanding of the difference between information and ideas). If we swing too far toward a fear-based language, we loose the capacity to reason and speak a language of blessing. Unused words become archaic and fall out of use; if we remove ourselves from the practice of blessing and goodwill, there is little to hold back a culture of fear and misunderstanding. . .
Perhaps we should be pessimistic about the effectiveness of blessings; perhaps the force of violence applied against the world is too great to overcome. Perhaps the price we would pay in material comfort and apparent security is too high for us to bear. What we are essentially discussing is the price of falling in love; are we able to show a love to others that does not expect recompense? What if the return on our love is only spite and abuse? We live in shared space; though my home may be thousands of miles away from a given person in a completely different culture, we have shared our existence at some level. After all we’ve shared, can I say no to this man’s blessing; can I say he has no need of mine? If so, what price am I willing to pay for the curses he must otherwise live through? Can I observe conflict between two people or groups of people without grieving. I suppose the ultimate question in this is, am I willing to follow through with all the necessary actions required to keep life and blessing flourishing in the world?