Conflict avoidance is a time-honored survival strategy for many sentient beings. Particularly in times of resource scarcity, when the law of tooth and claw could mean extinction for both predator and prey, natural enemies will often share the same waterhole. Families with volatile issues just beneath the surface will choose to work around them rather than risk an explosive confrontation.
Sometimes, the strategy works. Sometimes it is nothing more than appeasement or enabling. And sometimes we flirt with the very edge of disaster, stepping within the comfortable boundary between that big elephant in the room and our own safety. One hopes that the photographer of this desert-adapted elephant in Namibia was using a telephoto lens. I've been closer to a bull elephant than this and it was traumatic for both of us. Luckily, he and I chose the route of avoidance. The other option would have resulted in our mutually assured destruction, for the authorities would have tracked him down and killed him for stamping the life out of a foolish white American in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Whether conflict avoidance delays an inevitable confrontation or allows for prolonged and wary coexistence is an open question. Many of us choose silence or inaction rather than risk a personally threatening outcome. Families do not plan ahead to preserve their land and end up losing themselves as well as their real estate when the crisis moment comes. Water works its way past the unaddressed flaws in the levee until it ruptures in catastrophic flood. And voices remain unheard for fear of retaliation.
And what of sacrifice? There are times in nature when the life of the mother is more valuable than the life of the child, but there are also times when the urge to protect one's offspring is greater than the urge for self-preservation. I know that I have felt moments when I was fully ready to sacrifice my life for my children, despite my fear of oblivion and lack of faith in any hereafter. I have not felt the same call to sacrifice my life for my country.
There are those who let no injustice stand, no matter how slight. There are others who seek to avoid conflict at all costs. Readers of this blog know that I seek a middle ground. I am not interested in slamming people, although I have a low tolerance for bullies, wastrels and callousness. I am not particularly interested in exposing hypocrisy, though I see it everywhere. I have an oddball, wry sense of humor and an attraction to fire, but not a death wish. I am interested in living a life that is honorable, that takes appropriate risks and principled stands. And that is the point at which I balance and where you find me here today.
I like finding solutions. I understand politics and personalities and try not to exploit that knowledge unjustly, though sometimes to my great discredit I do. I am often uneasy turning over rocks to see what may be buried beneath, but just as often find myself doing just that. I won't show you everything. And I don't always name the elephants in the room.
My Dad speaks truth to power on a daily basis, putting his convictions about peace and social justice up front and personally in a way that I admire and yet do not try to emulate. Dad has been vigilling in front of the old town hall in his town since before the war in Iraq began and the stories he has to tell about this kind of peacemaking and the encounters he has with passersby are unlike anything else you will hear about this moment in our nation's history. This stuff is personal for each of us, and sometimes making ourselves vulnerable changes hearts and minds. Sometimes all it leaves us is martyrdom. I am at a different place personally and in some ways politically at this stage in my life than my father, but his dedication, commitment, and willingness to stand up for his beliefs are palpable and I honor him for that even though I choose not to stand there with him.
The risks we take should be considered ones made in a timely fashion. The commitments we make should be based on sound judgment and a willingness to adapt our approach in light of new information. This is not always the case, but it is the right standard by which to steer.