Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Value family

Posted by boakley59 on January 30, 2017

The challenge in stopping a jerk, a bully, a monster is in not becoming one yourself. The difficulty in an “Us or Them” conflict is that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

It’s easy to defeat even presumably superior force with force if you have any means (see Revolution: American, ca. 1770s; War: Vietnam, ca. 1960s-70s), if you are willing to adopt the inhumanity with which you are being attacked.

Gandhi solved the problem through extreme nonviolence, relentlessly turning the other cheek until the cruel saw themselves as the monsters they were. Martin Luther King deployed an aggressive strategy of mass peaceful resistance — a collective shout, impossible to ignore, that “we are here; our lives matter.” Their followers paid a high price and they themselves paid the ultimate price — and their work remains undone. Indeed, these days their work is being undone.

Lament with me that we have seen this all before and yet there are some so blind that they will not see.

The thought of defeating force with force, violence with violence, brings me to deepest sorrow; my will to violence only arises in desolate anger, when I don’t care who if any may live or die. I try not to go there and to get out if I do have a foot in that door.

Instead, I will be marching when and where I can; I will be pleading here for a broader community, a bigger house undivided.

Over the years marginalization has been justified through appeal to “family values” and nowadays the attack is from the other end with rejection of “identity politics.” Used to be “they” didn’t deserve to be treated fairly, now “they” are being unfair pointing out they’ve been mistreated.

And here is where I take my stand, because “family” and “identity” mean something more to me than the narrow usage of the domineer.

I am the adopted son of parents who have no offspring. I have an adopted sibling with whom I share no biological parentage. I have a son whose mother and I divorced, so that I missed his middle school years but his stepmother and I shepherded him through high school. He is an enrolled Rosebud Sioux through his mother’s line. He lives with his girlfriend and her son.

My mother used to joke that I was her “little Jewish boy” because of my build, coloring and facial characteristics, but she raised me Catholic: grade school, high school and university. She grew up Protestant, Methodist I think, in Virginia poverty in the Allegheny Mountains, but converted to marry into my father’s Irish and German family, Depression-era shopkeepers in the industrial Northeast Great Lakes area.

My collegiate prep high school and my prominent university gave me a strong grounding in Catholic doctrine, in math and science, and in literature. I began college as a chemistry major but my degree is in English. I became an atheist at college, but nuns, priests, chaplains, and pastors have always been in my circle of friends.

(I’ve written about this before, and I probably said it better back then, so visit See, I don’t fit in for more.)

The upshot is that there is only one family value: Love others. That makes us all family. So watch where you direct your threats: We defend our families.

Be sure you understand identity. In math, identity is an expression of unity, not separation. Two expressions are an identity if they evaluate to the same: Two plus two equals four. “Black Lives Matter” is a reminder that “All Lives Matter” not a claim that some don’t. The identity here is “black lives are lives.” The point is that labels are superficial indicators of identity.

Am I Jewish? My mother joked about it, but in truth, I have no information on my sire and dam, so my genes may very well support that identity. I presumably am a bastard, though married couples do give up children, too, so maybe not. I am not Christian, but until I point that out or do not join in worship, I suspect few Christians would see my behavior as alien to their culture. I’m a Yankee in the South. I’m on disability but I coach running.

When you put on a white sheet, when you close the borders, when you burn mosques, you attack my family. You challenge my identity. You are a monster and I will call on my family to stop you. We will not become you.

Our family is not just one man, one woman, and children. Our family has many faces — Jewish, Christian, atheist, Yankee, Sioux, married, divorced, single, degreed, disabled, rich, poor, artistic, scientific, kind (for all those different labels, in fact just one kind) — and we love each other.

So say all of us.

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