The Playground and the World

When I got punched, as a kid on the playground, I punched right back. I felt a right to defend myself, and I wanted to make it clear that nobody was going to be able to pick on me and get away with it. Nonetheless, two bullies, Tony and Mark, developed a grudge against me. After school one day we picked a meeting spot where no adults would get in our way. Jon, a fourth kid joined us to fight on my side.

First we called each other whimps and faggots. Then we pushed each other. Tony and I squared off, while Jon and Mark went at it. In the brawl that ensued I managed to throw Tony off of me. He tripped on the curb and fell out into the street. A passing car screeched to a halt as this fifth grade enemy of mine slammed against the side of the car's front fender. It scared me to death. Jon, Mark, and I stood frozen watching Tony slowly get up. He was dazed, and his shoulder hurt. But otherwise, he was okay. We all decided to go home. We did not fight again.

I couldn't articulate it then, but the experience had taught me something. Previously I had thought that winning a fight might really prove something. After endangering Tony's life, I realized that though I didn't want to lose a fight, I also didn't want to win one, not if someone's really going to get hurt.

Now I tell my daughter that if she gets punched at school, she should tell an adult. The adult, I am hoping, will talk to both parties, find out what caused the conflict, and help to resolve it. The lesson I hope she learns is that hitting others is never okay, and that there are better ways to settle conflicts.

The wisdom to use better ways requires patience and inspiration. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ and Mahatma Ghandi had this wisdom. They accepted that they would suffer costs in their struggle against oppressors, but they remained committed to not using violence in response to the violence used against them. Each of them prevailed in ways that have changed the world.

When I lose faith in "better ways" I want to use our military forces to crush all the terrorists and dictators throughout the world. Even before September 11, I was wishing the US could topple the Taliban and free the women of Afghanistan from their cruel oppression. Now it looks like our country is attempting to do just that.

Yet I am uneasy with the rhetoric and the pace of our "war" on terrorism. I am wary of action, especially violence, that comes without serious listening to others and subsequent self-reflection. I feel like I am in the back seat of a car that is careening through a wildly dangerous intersection. Our president, probably scared for his own life as well as for our nation, is driving as fast as he can. But will our actions end terrorism, or pour more gas on the fire?

We are all scared. Personally, I have been very uncomfortable with the background state of fear I have felt since 9/11. As a nation, we are not used to this feeling. Fear can have a strong psychological effect.

Psychologists call it "splitting". The tendency, when scared, is to begin dividing your world into two camps, good people and bad people. We fantasize that if only the good people can conquer the bad people, then we will be safe once more. Children love to play games like this. Adults ike to see movies where good and evil are neatly separated and the good guys win. It helps us feel less scared.

Whenever our president refers to our "evil enemy" he is splitting, just as Islamic fundamentalists are splitting when they call for a "holy war" against us. The reality is that we are not "all good". The terrorist acts committed against us were horrible. But it is also horrible that my great great grandfather owned slaves, that my father in law bombed Cambodia, or that a friend I play music with once trained the Contras in the use of torture and nerve gas. He worked for the CIA in the world's largest terrorist camp, the "School of the Americas" in Florida.

Likewise, Islamic extremists are not all bad. They do not "hate our freedoms" as our president has incorrectly accused them. Rather, they want the oppression of their people to stop. Perhaps we need to listen to why they are so scared and so desperate. The individuals responsible for terrorist acts must be brought to justice. But if we hope to truly end terrorism, and create a safe world for our children, then the whole world must be made more just.

To this end, the US must stop supporting oppressive dictatorships even if they are economically friendly to our corporations. Secondly, we must reverse global trade and world bank policies which bypass democratic review and increase the suffering of the world's poor. And thirdly, we must strengthen our support for the United Nations and global treaties that seek to solve the world's problems with unified and cooperative proposals. With this in mind, I think the president is right. The war on terrorism will be a long one.

© 2008 Tim Hartnett

Other Father Issues, Books

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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. - Peter Ustinov

Tim Hartnett, MFT is father to Molly at their home in Santa Cruz, CA. Tim also works part time as a writer, psychotherapist and men's group leader. If you have any feedback, or would like to receive the monthly column, "Daddyman Speaks" by Tim Hartnett regularly via email, (free and confidential) send your name and email address to E-Mail Tim Hartnett, 911 Center St. Suite "C", Santa Cruz, CA 95060, 831.464.2922 voice & fax.

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