Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Peaceful Warrior

In my lifetime, I have been a soldier, a correctional officer, a self defense instructor, and a philosopher. I have made it a point to know how to fight, and I have made it a point to understand the ramifications of fighting. Those ramifications can be severe, in so many different ways, but so too can be the ramifications of not fighting. It sometimes seems to be a competition between the two for which will have the lesser consequences.

Life is about consequences. Every action we take and every action we do not take will result in consequences. There are no exceptions. We don’t always see the consequences, and sometimes the consequences are so small as to seem insignificant, but they are always there. Living a mindful life is not about avoiding consequences, or even avoiding potentially negative consequences, but about recognizing the existence of those consequences and taking all reasonable steps to understand and work within those consequences as they exist.

I mention this because there is often a misunderstanding which assumes that people who prefer to avoid fighting are trying to avoid something which cannot be avoided. There are certainly people who don’t understand the interrelated concept of consequences and so might try such an avoidance, but one cannot be mindful and unaware at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive. Those who choose to live a mindful life may attempt to avoid violence for any number of reasons, but to avoid consequences cannot be one of them.

At the same time, one cannot be a mindful warrior without being fully conversant in the consequences of fighting. We fight because we believe there is reason to fight, and we believe that reason justifies the consequences, but we cannot avoid those consequences or the full meaning of them. That includes those consequences beyond the immediate.

We’ve all seen the concept of consequences illustrated by tossing a stone into water and watching the ripples. You have the immediate effect, followed by the outward-spreading after effects. While it is not humanly possible to be aware of all potential ripple effects, we know that there are ripple effects and in order to be truly mindful, we must acknowledge the existence of those ripples and act accordingly. When it comes to fighting, that includes being aware of such things as collateral damage and long term effects. We know they exist and we cannot ignore them.

No one understands the consequences of violence better than the warrior who pays attention. True skill in combat requires as full an understanding of the consequences as can be achieved. “If I do this, it will lead to this, this, and this.” Understanding consequences, both immediate and ripple, is the very nature of strategy, the cornerstone of the warrior’s art. Without this, one cannot be truly considered to be a skilled warrior. An accomplished brute, perhaps, but not a skilled warrior.

We do need warriors if we are to see a better world. It must be remembered that there are those who do not want to see a better world and are always ready - often eager - for a fight. If people will fight to prevent a better world and no one will fight to achieve a better world, the natural progression will be away from a better world. That is simple cause and effect. We may dream of a world where that is not true, but we do not currently inhabit a world where that is not true. In this world, there is always someone trying to destroy someone else. Without defenders, the destroyers must win, so we must have defenders. We must have warriors, and skilled warriors are preferable to accomplished brutes.

A skilled warrior who wants to see a better world will, by nature, be a peaceful warrior. There is no other way. A truly skilled warrior, one who understands strategy and is mindful of consequences, cannot help but know the damage caused by violence. That damage is exactly what we are trying to prevent. We want a world where people live, love, and are happy. That is not a world of conflict, and cannot be fully realized in a world of conflict. Still, we live in a world of conflict, so someone must be prepared to face that conflict. If we must face that conflict, better we have the knowledge and skill to face it well. That task falls to the peaceful warrior, that person who wields the sword with surgical precision in service to the day when all swords can be beaten into plowshares.

Let those who would take up the sword do so in a mindful manner, ever ready to put it down again when the need has passed. We need warriors, but we need those who understand that the fight is the tool, not the cause. We need those who will be defenders rather than destroyers, and we need those who will be always mindful of the consequences. The peaceful warrior is the guardian of the better world.

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