Monday, May 13, 2013


Ironically,  taking a pacifist stance does not always diminish conflict in one's life. Choosing the less popular response can create intense struggles that are often fought in the battlegrounds of moral "right" and "wrong."   As any nonconformist can tell you, the road less traveled is less traveled, in large part, due to toll exacted from those who would venture where others fear to tread.

Another reason pacifists are often target for scorn is that, despite being hardwired for fight-or-flight, our culture  holds a high opinion of the fight option. We love winners, often despite the cost of victory. Flight, on the other hand, is often met with such vitriolic condemnation that it often takes more courage to stand and not fight than to take up arms. 

Take the example of this quote from that Not-So-Teddy-Bear Roosevelt who said, “The pacifist is as surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrongdoer.”  Ouch!  Of course, it may be easy to understand how someone who was a proponent of eugenics*, short for "only the strong should reproduce," would take such a heavy-handed stance against a pacifist philosophy.  But, how do we explain the common notion held by caring, intelligent, and rational people that only war can bring peace? 

Fortunately, few people who face life threatening illnesses, and decide to seek a gentler path to recovery, will ever have to face the likes of ol' Bull Moose Roosevelt.  However, this does not mean that we do not experience conflict both within and without.

The medical profession, friends, and even family members, conditioned to believe that pacifism is the same as admitting defeat, will often send well-meaning arrows our way.  Slogans like, Cancer may have started the fight but I will finish it, Whoever said winning isn’t everything, wasn’t fighting cancer, and even Livestrong, place subtle, and not-so-subtle, pressure on pacifists to stand their ground and not cower from the enemy. It’s easy to imagine someone struggling with a life-altering illness giving in to these demands rather than be thought of as a  traitor. 

Perhaps even worse than the outer conflict with a culture seemingly addicted to war, is the internal machinations of the mind that, too often, has its own ideas about winning and losing.  Despite the obvious fact that it takes more courage to go against the norm, and stand on one’s own principles, the mind likes to play the “Don’t be a coward” card on a regular basis. Weapons used by the mind as it fights against the flight instinct include, but are in no way limited to, guilt, shame, blame, and regret.  Anyone who has ever spent a restless night with his or her own mind knows, addditionally, that it is not beneath the techniques of taking hostages and torture. Thus, the inner battleground is often more treacherous and deceitful than any external hostile territory.

The challenge facing the pacifist is to take a similar approach to these conflicts as he or she would with the cancer itself.  It’s self-defeating to attempt to make peace with cancer only to fight tooth-and-nail with those who do not understand the pacifist philosophy.  To avoid becoming just another self-hating-monger, we can become an activist for the cause of pacifism.  We can become deeply devoted to peace-making and find victory in overcoming to need to go to war.  In this campaign, we can turn to one of the greatest thinkers of our time, Albert Einstein, for our slogan; “I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.” Bully for you Albert, and three cheers for the rest of us!

*Some day we will realize that the prime duty - the inescapable duty - of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type. Theodore Roosevelt to the founder of the Eugenics Records Office, January 3, 1913.

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