Happy New Year, 2003?

I very rarely use the word, “happy.” In a world so unjust, oppressive and violent, where it feels as if the bad guys always seem to win (which isn’t true), having a goal of a carefree, blissed-out “happiness,” almost seems like criminal negligence.

This is especially true this year, as the whole world wonders what fate awaits us as far as war in the Middle East, a war which could trigger a much wider and extremely destructive conflict. How can we expect happiness?

And yet, if we are to keep the faith, stay hopeful and positive, and undertake acts of love to strengthen the forces of justice as we try to stop the drive towards war, we need to find a degree of inner calm and balance that will sustain and motivate us.

On the surface this calm and balance might look like happiness, but I don’t think it is. From my experiences over the years, I’d call it something else.

The famous Helen Keller, who called herself a socialist, had some very profound words to say to describe this “something else:”

“Four things to learn in life:
To think clearly without hurry or confusion;
To love everybody sincerely;
To act in everything with the highest motives;
To trust God unhesitatingly.”

I carry these words around in my wallet and have them posted on my office wall. For years I’ve been reflecting on them. I feel closest to the first and third points, and I appreciate the sentiment behind the fourth one, but after many years of thinking about it, I still have difficulty with the second point, in a real sense. After all, how can one love Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger and the many others who, if justice were more than a seven-letter word, would be either behind bars or ex-felons?

Keller is “picking up” on the teachings of the great religious leaders of the past 2,000 years who taught that we should love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. As I’ve thought about this and applied it from time to time, I can support this concept if the idea is to firmly resist injustice and oppression, from whatever source, while never losing sight of the humanity, latent or repressed though it may be, of those enemies. “Oppose the policies and the system, not the individuals caught up in it.” As I see it, the primary reason to attempt to live out this seemingly-impossible ethical commandment is to make it less likely that those of us who are trying to be effective change-agents will be corrupted by the old ways of the repressive and violent system we are trying to transcend.

Living like this, attempting to live like this, is a key element in the process of finding enough inner peace and balance to be an effective leader for positive social change.

The popular movement for peace and justice that is very much alive and kicking in the United States as this new year begins, as demonstrated by the 2000 Nader/LaDuke Green Party campaign, the massive demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco on April 20th and October 26th of the year past, and the persistent grassroots organizing at local levels on a wide range of issues all over the country, needs, absolutely needs, large numbers of people within it who appreciate this fundamental insight.

This movement must consciously learn from the best of the women’s movement and reject the competitive, hierarchical and self-centered styles of leadership that far too many men and some, mainly white middle- and upper-class, women often display. We need to keep learning how to work in a collective and cooperative way, a way that is distinctly different than the aggressive, me-first culture that is dominant in U.S. society today. We need to show by example, by the way that we function, that we have have grown and learned beyond the old destructive patterns of personal interaction that have kept us divided and weak for literally decades. We must be known not just for our good ideas about how to remake society and our work on issues but by the way we interact with each other and with other people on personal levels.

Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish woman who was one of the leading European revolutionaries of the first 20 years of the 20th century, had some very appropriate words to say about this critical need, this “something else” that is critical to our ultimate success:

“Unrelenting revolutionary activity, coupled with a boundless humanity—this alone is the real life-giving force of socialism. A world must be overturned, but every tear that has flowed and might have been wiped away is an indictment, and a man hurrying to perform a great deed who steps on even a worm out of unfeeling carelessness commits a crime.”

And more recently, in 1965, Latin American revolutionary Che Guevera put it like this:

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality. . . We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

Are we up to it? Is it too much to hope that 2003 will see more of this, more concrete examples, of such a spirit?