Johan Maurer on Can You Believe? in his entry "Define 'reckless'" notes:
A New York Times story (November 29) included the following assessment: "A human rights advocate in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Christian Peacemaker Teams have acted with reckless disregard for their own safety by moving unprotected through communities generally hostile to the foreign presence."
And Johan's response, in part, was:
Everything we have heard from participants in the Christian Peacemaker Teams demonstrates that their "disregard for their own safety" was anything but reckless. (If I understand correctly, "reck-less" means "without reckoning.") ... My interpretation of their reckoning: There is no true community and no true security outside the realm of love.
I very much appreciate Johan's response.
The whole notion of peacemakers having "reckless disregard for their own safety" reveals such a deep misunderstanding of what peacemaking is all about. What if a reporter was writing instead about more U.S. military deaths in Iraq, and added, "the U.S. soldiers acted with reckless disregard for their own safety"? It may be a true statement. It may be that war, by definition, is the most extreme form of acting "with reckless disregard for one's own safety." Yet if that sentence were published, imagine the outrage! "We can't blame the soldiers! We can't blame the U.S. military! Soldiers are brave! They are willing to risk their lives for service to their country! They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice!" would likely be the predominant response from the U.S. public.
Soldiers, we know, are trained to courage. They know they face the risk of injury or death. And so we do not regard their facing danger as "reckless."
The question that has most haunted me about peacemaking is: "How is it possible to have the courage to be willing to walk straight into conflict unarmed?" Because of course peacemakers too know that they are taking a risk. Peacemakers have to have every bit as much courage as soldiers, if not more -- because, after all, peacemakers remain unarmed.
This relates now to the next posting I would like to respond to: Zach Alexander on A quaker anarchist wrote in Testimony to Peace about the courage required to engage in peacemaking work, and personally struggles with the challenge of this. He sees how necessary it is that some be willing to do this kind of work, take on this kind of risk. He sees the potential power of requiring young people to engage in such work. And yet, he wonders at the potential cost -- what he might sacrifice in terms of dreams about his own life, and what the world might lose if he got killed instead of going on to make a difference in some larger, more significant way.
These hugely important questions require careful discernment. I believe that each of us is called differently in life. Some are called to work actively (and at great personal risk) for peace. Others are called to contribute to the world in different ways. And callings may change throughout one's life.
But the question of courage is an especially important one, requiring special attention. Courage cannot simply be willed. Nor is it something that one either is born with or not. Courage requires cultivation. And the cultivation of the kind of courage required for effective peacemaking can take time.
The military knows this, and trains people in courage. I'm assuming that many peacemaking organizations do so as well (though differently from how the military does it!) Those that don't really need to do so.
And we as individuals can learn ways to cultivate our own courage, and can support each other in doing so. An important part of cultivating courage is to develop the habit of facing our fears fully, and thinking in advance about how we might respond if fearsome things happen to us. Fearsome events catch us by surprise and focus our attention very narrowly on self-protection. An important part of nonviolent courage is learning how to widen perception back out to some form of "caring" for "the enemy" as well, and looking for the creative response that would not only protect oneself, but protect the "enemy" from doing something terrible that they might later regret.
So, I pray for Tom Fox, Norman Kember, James Loney, and Harmeet Singh Sooden to find courage. I pray that they seek ways of responding to their predicament that would be disarmingly transformative. I pray that their captors come to realize what amazing people these are, and how tragic it would be if they killed them. I pray for some surprise outcome that ends up dramatically and positively furthering the cause of peace in the world.