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The path is difficult and long

Jim,

I’ve found sometimes conversations like those you had with your relatives are hurtful, particularly when I want to like them or for them to like me. I see the contradictions, usually moral inconsistencies I recognize because I or some part of me indulged in that kind of contradiction before. Either that, or I am very much capable of abandoning the principles I’ve taken so long to gain and refine.

In those situations, I have to step back and take a deep breath, and remember why I care about what I do. It’s about people in general, and my community(ies) in particular. People who have such loose opinions about those whose shoes they do not stand in not only irritate me, but they tap a deep thread of pain that has to do with me being the target of that language or having had to listen to it from my parents or relatives–people who never did well themselves.

Moreover, as union men, we hear that kind of thing in different forms all the time. Being in a union is not just about us, our members, but also about working people in general. Our union membership does good for others because just our presence in the market or industry keeps employers from getting too exploitative for fear their employees will join a union. We wind up being of service to people who hate us, and we are never going to convince them of the good of the union or just the existence of unions. It hurts until we begin to figure that we are being of service to people, despite their appreciation or lack of it. we don;t do it for recognition. We do it because it’s right.

The other thing is this: It’s dangerous to have anything in or around us or that affects us that can’t be criticized. This includes religion, country, military, etc. Often these are held up as above reproach, and people who have other views about them are vilified. But they are so integral to our lives that if anything, we should scrutinize them, take them apart. If they are not to be criticized, then they are instruments of repression, used by those in power to maintain and expand that power.

It’s true that the military preys on desperate people, and that desperate people seek the military out. It sounds as if your “friends” are defensive. Probably, what started out for you as a conversation was to them a reminder of the more painful aspects of their situation, and of their lack of confidence in their choices.

I’ve always had a problem with the “support the troops” thing. I was against military intervention in Afghanistan, and then Iraq. (We can argue that another time.) But I was flat against it, and I still am (though, now, we have a responsibility to replace the chaos we created). I’m pacifist from top to bottom. I refuse to be distracted from the initial injustice. This is not about support or not supporting troops. It’s about keeping a bead on the wrong. Many people will let others pull the rug out from beneath them because it’s so hard to answer the question, “Well, you support the troops, don’t you?” I don’t even give them a, “yeah, but…” I say that question is a distraction from the issue and I will not put up with it.

Don’t let the patriotism thing get you down. I’m a believer! My study of American history has shown me that most everything comes out in the wash, and that Americans struggle, for the most part, over important things: individual liberty, personal freedom, and the right to choose your own way so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others to do the same. And I won’t salute the flag, sing the anthem, or pray with others. I’m too independent–American–to march in any line. But no one can impugn my belief, my faith, or patriotic loyalty in our great experiment.

I may never get elected to office. But that’s less important than believing in the principles of justice, kindness, understanding, and love.

You have the same kind of strong principles. And you believe in others. Don’t let these people, who are also struggling with their issues, get you down.

Patrick

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