you live in interesting times…" - Ancient Chinese Curse
Indeed these are interesting
times. The day the war began it was rainy and chilly where I live.
I scrambled to finish the day's business and went as soon as I could
to a local vigil with my "Pray for Peace" sign. There was the usual
mix of honks, and thumbs up, as well as obscene gestures and curses.
From there I went to a candlelight Meeting for worship, where the
peaceful gathering belied the turmoil of that very sad day. I felt
horrible; not only because of the terrible events, but I was also
coming down with an unintentional gift from my husband - a spring
cold. For the next three days I got hardly anything done. I coughed
and flipped the television remote control - coughed and flipped
through the channels - watching and comparing war coverage. I felt
like the whole world was ill. By Monday I was mostly over my cold,
but the world had not recovered at all.
thing about a state of constant breaking news is that it is hard
to propagandize when fresh information is coming in at a steady
rate. When that stream slows down however, when minutes turn into
hours, which then turn into days between new reports, the ad nauseum
speculation begins. Then government representatives start criticizing
the commentators who are actually their friends often acting as
shills. I like to refer to this repartee as "Kabuki Theater." Everyone
is wearing a mask and we only get brief glimpses of the Truth as
they dance to entertain and confound us.
Most of you
reading this, who like me are sitting in our comfortable homes gnashing
our teeth, don't need to be told about the propaganda and half-truths
intermixed with honest reportage and live video coverage of the
war. Along with the rest of the viewing public, we have witnessed
the devastation in Iraq played out on television like a bad action
film. The early images of bang-bang-shoot'em-ups were almost sterile
in their portrayal of the human costs of the war. Now they are replaced
by scenes of chaos and of mutilated children suffering with out
proper medical care in besieged hospitals. As the war continues,
we are all becoming saturated with the coverage. The desensitization
Before the military
action began people were willing to discuss and debate. Now there
is almost a universal as well as admirable desire to support our
troops. But, we are tired of the horror and ghoulish commentary
that seems inescapable in the media. I can feel us collectively
shutting down and turning away from the depressing news. But people
are still afflicted. Even if it looks like the military goals are
being met and many Iraqis praise the fall of the regime, the torment
is not anywhere near over. There is still a need for voices of dissent
to speak up, though it may be harder than ever. Those of us involved
in letter writing campaigns to our government are struggling to
keep up and write relevantly, because the situation changes on a
daily basis. And of course, not everyone shares our skepticism,
nor do they want to hear us talking about our concerns over the
can be particularly difficult for dissenters. Depending on where
and with whom you work, there will be varying levels of comfort
on how much antiwar talk or displays will be tolerated. Most businesses
do not have a written or even an implied policy on political or
religious activities by their staff. Their company culture relies
on the good sense and courtesy of their employees. Most businesses
will only react if there has been some unusually negative interaction.
I have, however heard of one newspaper that sent out a company wide
memo threatening dismissal to any staff member seen participating
in peace demonstrations. This was ostensibly an effort to maintain
the newspaper's journalistic integrity and objectivity.
I won't tell
you who the paper was - because the employee who told me still could
face disciplinary action from their company. I can understand requesting
that reporters, whose beat it is to cover the demonstrations, behave
in an ethical and unbiased manner. But past that, I think those
in the rank and file there are being illegally denied their right
to free speech. Who cares what the press operators or the truck
drivers - or anyone else working there - think or do in their own
free time, as long as it does not interfere with their work? It
is ironic to me that a company making a profit providing news of
a war which is supposed to secure (among other things) the right
to free speech for the people of Iraq, a war which has taken a deadly
toll on fellow journalists, would make such a demand on it's workers.
I would not
presume to tell my friend what to do in the situation mentioned
above. Taking an unpopular stand on any issue in the work place
is a challenge most people would like to avoid. These are difficult
times, both politically and economically. There is great risk in
standing alone. Looking back in Quaker history we can see that it
took John Woolman a long time to stop taking money as a scribe from
potential clients who were slave owners. Eventually he could no
longer deny his leading to answer to a higher authority than that
of commerce. I identify with Woolman because he was in the communications
business and like many such people (including myself) he was an
itinerant - or in today's parlance a "freelancer." For the self
employed turning down paying gigs on principal means literally doing
without. This is not easy to do - in fact it is impossible for most
who have families to support. For folks with more regular employment
in a company or corporation, the idea of walking away from their
job on principal is not just frightening - it is almost unthinkable.
this time a person at some distance lying sick, his brother
came to me to write his will. I knew he had slaves, and asking
his brother, was told he intended to leave them slaves to
his children. As writing is a profitable employ, as offending
people is disagreeable to my inclination, I was straitened
in my mind; but as I looked to the Lord, he inclined my heart
to his testimony, and I told the man that I believed the practice
of continuing slavery to this people was not right and had
a scruple in mind against doing writings of that kind: that
though many in our Society kept them as slaves, still I was
not easy to be concerned in it and desired to be excused from
going to write the will. I spake to him in the fear of the
Lord, and he made no reply to what I said, but went away;
he also had some concerns in the practice, and I thought he
was displeased with me.
In this case I had fresh confirmation that acting contrary
to present outward interest from a motive of divine love and
in a regard to truth and righteousness, and thereby incurring
the resentments of people, opens the way to a treasure better
than silver and to a friendship exceeding the friendship of
- John Woolman
appreciate that Woolman says he does not like making people
uncomfortable. I was raised to be courteous and pleasant in
public situations. I remember my parents working very hard with
us on our manners. It is so ingrained in me that even when I
have to say something unpleasant I try to couch it in kindness
in some way. Sometimes I fail miserably. The truth cannot always
be sugar coated. There have been times that either I blurted
out my words stupidly or my attempt to "be nice" obscured what
I was really trying to say. I suspect this will happen again.
When we choose to gloss things over instead of saying the hard
truth - we pay for it later in misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
If individuals have a hard time with this, it is no wonder large
organizations and governments struggle to "be nice." But, was
it Churchill who said something to the effect that - the one
way to guarantee that evil succeeds is that good people do nothing?
Because we are fortunate enough to have the right to free speech,
we have a responsibility to use it. This indeed is a deeply
spiritual mandate. And like other such callings it is not easy.
In the workplace and other
social situations, Woolman can inspire us. It is important to seek
faithful discernment in order to recognize when a situation is actually
untenable because of a moral conflict, or if a "teachable" moment
has presented itself. There is some jeopardy involved. But, there
are people willing to risk their lives serving their country in the
military or as peace teams to make the world a better place. Is a
little social discomfort the least we can do if there is a chance
that we might turn someone's heart toward Love?
It takes great
faith and courage to speak up and share the Truth as we experience
it. Sometimes our fears and doubts will be confirmed in the negative
response we might get. But often we will be surprised and heartened
by the good will of others and their affirmation of our right to
speak. Is it worth taking a chance? Should we not ask what our silence
is worth? There are no easy answers. Sometimes prayerful silence
really is all that is called for. And, there is certainly no need
to search out situations where a choice must be made. Ultimately,
we each must face these things as they are presented to us and seek
Divine guidance as to what we are led to do.
It will always
be hard to bear witness with a dissenting opinion. It is easy for
me to be steadfast in my witness at work - because I work for myself.
So, I am praying for all of you who daily have to discern the right
choice between silence and speaking. Ultimately we must all let
Truth be our guide and reach out to each other in support of dissenting
voices and as well as concerned silences, because we are all in
The links below
are to stories on dissent or about people working in the media who,
though they may not be Quaker, have taken stands, which have had
Is dissent relevant?
ReligionWriters.com provides background information on public debate
and whether a seemingly quick end to the war could actually dissuade
further debate of armed conflict.
cities pass measures countering Patriot Act
ReligionWriters.com gives important information on the impact of antiterrorism
legislation in the U.S.
Fall of 'Hitler' Producer
CBS denies that producer Ed Gernon was fired from a miniseries about
Adolph Hitler after he compared the invasion of Iraq to the rise of
Politics & America's Pastime
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, cancelled a 15th
anniversary celebration of Bull Durham and dis-invited special guests
Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon because of their anti-war stance. The
text of Tim Robbins letter is a response worth reading.
Michael Moore: My Oscar "Backlash"
Michael Moore responds to reported anger over his antiwar statement
at the Oscars with evidence to the contrary and encouragement to dissenters.
Kester-McCabe is a freelance graphic artist, writer and designer
from Bishopville, Maryland.
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