Hot Words, Hotter Action

Odin was said to have surrendered an eye in exchange for wisdom. But having been in more than one painful spot than I’d like to admit to, I estimate that, god or no, he wound up in a bad situation and gained his wisdom the usual way, at a high cost.

I mention this because I think our nation and world are about to undergo a costly gaining of wisdom. Then, we’ll go through the typical misery of getting insight and getting bloody, and perhaps losing one eye.

 Bosun Mate John O’Toole once mentioned two ways to gain wisdom: easy and hard. In the easy way, you gain insight by observation. You learn from the mistakes of others and take wise counsel from those more knowledgeable. In the hard way you obstinately bumble about damaging yourself and others until you wise up or get beaten up. Having tried both methods, I know that the easy way is best; the hard way is so seductive because we think it’s easy until the consequences add up. 

There is little new about dangerous thought and expression that hasn’t gotten attempted over and over. And that has been on my mind a lot in recent months as political rhetoric heats up across the country. Frustrations with the status quo took legitimate action in protests and political action onto the street in the sixties. But for some, speech was not enough; discourse not sufficient. Instead, we needed to impose “right action and right thought.” Many left-leaning individuals were horrified when the Weather Underground began its bombing campaign. There was no sorcery or inspirational thought, just the marriage of tired political rhetoric and grandiose and violent behavior.

And unfortunately, I see the same sort of thing happening again. 

At one juncture, it was the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao or the theories of Marx. Now they use carefully selected passages from the Bible or the screeds of someone called Q. Just as in the sixties, the fabrication of truth seems to provide an easy way to wisdom, justice, and making America great. It’s the hard way, but it’s easy until you pay the consequences.

I was trained very traditionally in martial arts, first in Kodokan influenced Judo and later Iaido ( Japanese swordsmanship). There is a reluctance to initiate violence in both disciplines and a preference to create peace. 

In swordsmanship, the sword should remain in its sheath. Once the blade comes out of the sheath, the talking is over. 

A sword fight might be over in seconds, but the consequences are long-term; death or severe injury for one or both combatants. And old hurts fester and create new actions in the cause of revenge.

You can apologize for the words. You can repudiate spoken idiocies and make peace. But political and physical violence create cascades that echo through the years.

So this is what I see happening. People run their mouths without thinking of the consequence of their speech and actions. We all should remember that talking is over once the sword comes out of the sheath. And we’ll have a hell of a time putting a civil society back together again once that happens.

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