Wednesday, August 17, 2011


An online dialogue the other day spurred my thinking so it is time for a post to the blog.

I stipulate the following observations as a portion of reality in the world today. There is evil in the world. There is nastiness. Abusive behaviors, manipulative behaviors, and struggles for both power and control are evident. Random acts of violence, to include murder, rape, mayhem, assault, et cetera, exist. Intentional acts of violence, to include shootings, bombings, poisonings, beheadings, lynchings and other activities of terrorists are real. People steal from one another. I do not intend this list to be comprehensive. One can go on and on as the list of nastiness is long and anti-human behaviors seem to be on the increase.

Each of us has choice in how best overtly to respond to one of the many provocations cited above. We can respond "eye for eye, tooth for tooth", and in many cases no one will criticize such a choice thinking same to be thoroughly justified. We can respond with overwhelming counter-force in the hope that the 'enemy' will be not only punished for the initial insult, but also be given serious pause concerning future behaviors. "Don't tread on me" is the phrase which comes to mind. Nuclear deterrent is an example, at least in theory, of overwhelming counter-force. We can choose to "turn the other cheek," and if asked “for our coat give our shirt” as well. I feel certain there are a number of other responses from which to choose.

In addition to the overt responses noted above, there is another, perhaps more subtle, level of response which each of us takes in response to provocation, sometimes knowingly and sometimes perhaps not so. It is this level of response which impacts our very souls. How we perceive the world in which we live helps to determine the world in which we dwell. I do not mean that we can change the realities, but how we choose to let the realties change us is within our control. When evil shuts us down, closes us off, and makes us edgy, nervous and suspicious, evil wins. When the terrorist creates enough fear that day-to-day living is impacted, the terrorist wins. When we choose to dwell in the hurt and pain, the pain and hurt win. The interesting point here is that it is our response, and not the presence of evil, or the behavior of the terrorist, or the hurt and pain, which rules the day. In this sense, we do create the world in which we live.

Conversare is the infinitive form of a Latin word which is best translated, "to live with, or have dealings with". Literally, the word means, "to turn around". From the root come our English words, "conversation" and perhaps also, "conversion". If you expand the possibilities of meaning beyond the merely literal, the word suggests how best people relate, one to another. I think it not too much of a stretch to say that one "converts" through "conversation". For conversation to take place, one must be attentive and open to the other. One must listen. Listening is an other-centered activity. For conversion to take place, one needs to feel first safe and valued, such that defensiveness can be abandoned in favor of presence. In a good marriage, for example, each partner seeks to assure a safe and secure place for the other such that both parties are equally valued, mutuality prevails and a genuine oneness is fashioned out of two. In such a union it is not about right and wrong but care, nurture and love. One subordinates one's own need(s) in favor of the other, and when both do that, each individual thrives. It is one of the great miracles of life. From the microcosm of marriage to the macrocosm of international relations, the dynamics remain the same. Conversion comes through conversation, and for conversation to be genuine, open, honest and forthright, there must first be a safe place where each party is valued. Mutual interest must prevail in the heart and mind of each party. One might cite the Amish as one group which seeks to model this approach to life.

Speak softly and carry a big stick? I think not. Create safe places for the others in our lives, celebrate diversity and remain open to all that is good even in the face of evil -- that is conversare and it is fundamental to healthy human beings.