An anecdote written by a journalist in New York City who was visited by a colleague for a week is instructive. Each day they go through the same routine; they take the subway to the office, stop at the newsstand to buy morning papers, then they go to the office.
The third morning the friend says, “Boy that guy is really nasty,” referring to the news vendor. “Yes, he certainly is.” “But every day you are so pleasant to him, and he’s just as nasty in return.” “Yea, right.” “Well, if he’s always so grumpy why are you so pleasant to him?” “Because I don’t want him to determine how I’m going to be!”
Who or what determines the kind of person you are becoming? Who or what determines the kind of nation and world we are becoming? Osama bin Laden? Saddam Hussein? George W. Bush and Company?
One final question: what’s the key ingredient in you, or them, that determines who you, and we, will become?
I see it summarized in the word attitude. Attitude is a state of mind. Like the newspaper vendor’s nasty hostility, it’s a disposition.
Arrogance, an overbearing sense of self-importance or superiority, is the attitude that led us into Iraq. Saddam’s arrogance hit against George W’s arrogance and got us into this terrible disaster. It’s all about power-military might. Hubris is the excessive pride that gets in the way of reason and compassion.
The Bible’s book of Proverbs says, “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
The opposite of arrogant pride can be summed up in the term reverence.
Paul Woodruff, a Vietnam veteran, recently wrote a book he titled, “Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue.” He writes, “Reverence begins in a deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control–God, truth, justice, nature, even death. This in turn fosters the ability to be ashamed…”
Woodruff provokes us, saying, “Reverence has more to do with politics than religion. Power without reverence is a catastrophe…power without reverence is aflame with arrogance. Hubris is the crime of tyrants. An irreverent soul is arrogant and shameless, unable to feel awe in the face of things higher than itself. As a result, an irreverent soul is unable to feel respect for people it sees as lower than itselfÑordinary people, prisoners, children.”
“It is a natural mistake to think that reverence belongs to religion. It belongs, rather, to community. Reverence lies behind civility and all the graces that make life in society bearable and pleasant.”
A shameless lack of reverence has gotten us into the disastrous war in Iraq. A military doctrine that boasts overwhelming superiority–shock and awe–has alienated us from long-time friends and allies, and now threatens to divide us from one another, lest we forget.
We are a nation in mourning, and shock. Those of us who spoke against a preemptive invasion of Iraq are seeing our worst fears becoming a nightmare reality. We grieve the loss of every life, American, British, Iraqi.
Paul put it precisely two thousand years ago: “Love is patient…it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on having its own way. It does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices only in what is right.”
As we pray for the safe return of our troops–which is the best support we can offer–may we also pray for a change in attitude in our elected leaders and their advisors. May they find the intuitive source of reverence that is planted in every human heart. And, as we speak our minds, may we be civil to one another, taking responsibility for the kind of person each of us will be and the community we will become.