Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From "You" and "I" to "We"

Recently articles on marriage and committed relationships have been popping up more than usual in my Facebook Newsfeed. I'm not in a long-term relationship, at least not the kind the articles are referring to, but curious, I've read a few. I hoped that they'd have something to offer to my other committed relationships: to my family, to my friends, to my writing, to my work, to justice, to peacemaking. I was not disappointed.

The Huffington Post article lists as one of its "8 Surprising (And Scientifically Proven) Things That Lead to a Lasting Marriage" "using the word 'we' during arguments." Couples who use "we" and "us" more than "I," "me," and "you" tend to have more successful marriages. This felt very familiar to me.

During my first stint last year with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Palestine, I wrote about my spiritual practice of looking people in the eye and, often silently, wishing them well. For a number of reasons I concentrated particularly on Israeli soldiers, who I saw on a daily basis:

1) I had made a commitment to nonviolence and, having done so, I tried to embody it. I cannot tell you how often I have wished I hadn't made that commitment.  But I did. I believe in the power of nonviolence, even though it's hard, and it stretches me very often beyond comfort, and I very often fail at living it. But I'm we (me and nonviolence) are in this for the long haul, so I may as well make the best of it.

2) Wishing for the well-being of soldiers did not come naturally, given that I often witnessed them in less than loving, less than common good-inspired (by my definition, though many of them would probably disagree with my definition of "common good") actions. Often my first reaction to seeing them disrespect, harass, or attack Palestinians was, and still is, anger. Try pulling "I wish you well" out of that feeling. Not easy. And so I practice. Practice. Practice. Practice makes perfect, so they say, but I doubt I'll get to perfection.

3) Wishing for anything but their well-being simply didn't seem useful. If I wish harm on them, how does that help Palestinians? The work of peacemaking? My soul? In all likelihood, harm to an Israeli soldier would only exacerbate already volatile circumstances. When I am in a bad mood, I don't always treat people well.  When someone with power and serious weaponry isn't at his or her best, imagine what might happen. You don't even need to imagine - just read the news. The well-being of one person ripples out to others. The reverse is also true.

4) When I was able to look into the eyes of those young men (young women never met my gaze), silently telling them I didn't hate them and that I wished them love, I could not deny their humanity. When I was able to look them in the eyes with compassion, not anger, I think they also, albeit briefly, recognized my humanity and our connection as children of God. My hope was always that our exchange might somehow lead them to a similar recognition towards Palestinians.

           -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -

During my second stint with CPT, my practice changed. It occurred to me that it was presumptuous to think that I had figured out the whole expansive love thing that I was wishing on others. That I had mastered mercy, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and loving my neighbor was laughable. That I was simply imparting my wisdom to those unfortunate others who hadn't - Really? That could not be farther from the truth.

So I changed my pronouns,  from "you" to "we."

I can't say that I really wanted to change them. I'm more comfortable with the distance that "you" and "I" puts between me and the soldiers, even while my actions purport to close the distance. I appreciate the gulf between "us" and "them" that allows me to claim some sense of moral superiority. But how real is that superiority? I'd like to think that in similar circumstances to those of the soldiers, I would act differently than they do, that I would not shoot teargas at children, that I would not kick or beat people, or that I would not raid homes in the middle of the night, terrorizing and traumatizing families. I'd like to think I'd see all people, Israeli, Palestinian, international, as my brothers and sisters. But those are mere hypotheticals. To be honest, I suspect that I would be prone to the strong influences around me that encouraged "us vs them" black and white interpretations of the context in which I lived. Even the circumstances I live in now, I have a long way to go to move beyond binaries and simple interpretations.

I am deeply grateful for the strong influences that currently surround me: people pursuing expansive love, redemptive justice, creative transformation.  They inspire me to pursue those same ideals and to delve into complexities. They help me to think in terms of "we."

The separation of "you" and "I" is a human construct. My faith, and increasingly, scientific research, points to the fact that we are all interconnected.  We are all made from atoms that emerged into the universe 14 billion years ago. In all likelihood, my atoms have mingled with yours at some point over those billions of years. That's a pretty intimate connection. It's a good argument for "we."

Our actions ripple through the world, influencing people we know and in ways we're aware of, and people we don't know and will never know. Remembering that I am part of a much greater "we" helps me to consider how my acts might vibrate out. And so I try to think, to act, to feel, to embrace "we."

When I embrace "we," I know that I am not alone. When I embrace "we," I recognize my complicity in the problems that surround us. When I embrace "we," I seek to work with,  not for, not against, others in addressing those problems. I am part of a larger force. If I unite my power with that of others, what can we do? How can we be in the world? Who can we be together, bringing our gifts, our sorrows, and our joys? Who can we be together when we tenderly care for vulnerabilities in each other and accept the strength and healing offered to us, filling our gaps? Who can we be together? 

Each Soul Completes Me

Beloved said,

"My name is not complete without

I thought:
How could a human's worth ever be such?

And God, knowing all our thoughts - and all our
thoughts are innocent steps on the path -
then addressed my 

God revealed
a sublime truth to the world,
when He 

"I am made whole by your life. Each soul,
each soul completes

- Hafiz

May we find our completeness in the souls of each other. Blessings on this eve of a new year. 

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