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Good Trouble

Peace Isn’t Peace Until It’s for Everyone


You must be bold, brave, and find a way to get in the way, to get in what I call "good trouble”.
- U.S. Rep. John Lewis | Georgia State University Freshman Convocation

Since the dawn of the ancient world historians, anthropologists and scientists have generally agreed that we have been at war with one another, somewhere or another, for ninety-two percent of that time. This staggering statistic, bearing in mind today's conflict-filled headlines, begs the question: In a world where one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist, when is resistance a good thing?

I believe the answer to this thorny question lies in the human quality of integrity I explored last month.

In 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to meet Adolph Hitler at his private mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden. A peace-loving man who wanted to avoid another bloodbath after the horrors of WWI, he believed that he could institute a policy of appeasement; this involved allowing Hitler to expand German territory unchecked. At the time, Chamberlin was greeted with much fanfare and relief as it was seen as an extremely popular solution for the war-weary British. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, Chamberlin is seen as weak and naïve because Hitler had no intention of keeping his word, something of which Chamberlin couldn't conceive.

What are history's great lessons here? Firstly, we may have the best peaceful intentions but we must learn the lessons of the consequences that can come from naiveté. We can't assume that everybody has integrity and is looking out for the greater good for they don't and they aren't. It's dangerous to mistake pacifism for love and compassion because peace at any price is always costly.

Secondly, we can't afford to shelve our integrity by cynically or ignorantly behaving like sheep being corralled into destructive tribal behavior that undermines our humanity and distorts the fundamental truth we are all in this together, whether we like it or not.

The conflict that followed Chamberlin's failed attempt at peace was the deadliest in human history during which my father was able to walk this tightrope between naiveté and holding on to his humanity. In a very strained atmosphere of fear and suspicion, he treated the German prisoners of war sent to work on our dairy farm by the War Office as people. Not because he was a pacifist (he had volunteered to fight), but as a man of great integrity. He was discerning enough to judge the POWs, not collectively as the enemy, but on their character. He came to understand that many had been drafted into an unwelcome conflict which made them victims of the madness. This is another lesson that serves us well today: innocent civilians generally pay the highest price in any conflict.

Today integrity itself (which had been gently rising collectively) is under attack from those who feel most threatened by its inherent truthfulness. Fundamental human rights for which we have strived are under assault. Keeping your word and abiding by your principles are now framed as weaknesses as they are trampled by the glorification of winning at all costs.

In this dark moment for humanity, we must be highly vigilant for people who lack integrity look to exploit a vulnerability in loving, peaceful people. They often mistake kindness for weakness; this we cannot afford. We cannot undermine our integrity and roll over and play nice. In your daily life it is not loving, peaceful or productive to allow others to be non-integrous. Giving a person engaged in criminal activity money, lending your car to an untrustworthy person, allowing somebody to steal from you undermine your integrity. This turns you into a victim while increasing instability for everyone. Our decisions of when to resist and when to desist hold enormous implications for us and others.

In the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis' Freshman Convocation at Georgia State University, he said, "When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something…" But how do we discern rightness, fairness, injustice in today's "post-shame" world where opposites of these ideals are cleverly manipulated to look like integrity? Ask yourself, does what's being presented to me honestly have integrity? Does it stand up under scrutiny? Is it transparent? Will it help to improve the situation for everyone involved? In the words of John Lewis, it's our responsibility to take the high moral ground through the integrous discipline of peaceful resistance and get into "good trouble" for the good of ourselves and our world.