Peace On Earth?

December, 2000

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1998: Christmas Remembered
1999: What's In A Date?
2000: Peace On Earth
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The whole world is festering
With unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans,
The Germans hate the Poles -
Italians hate Yugoslavs,
South Africans hate the Dutch
An' I don't like anybody very much!

The Kingston Trio, "Merry Minuet"

They are trying to steal this election. There's no way I will accept that person as my President.

take your pick - it's been said by members of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

In my Christmas message last year I wrote:

Isn't it an interesting time to be alive?

Little did we know in what interesting times we Americans would be living at the end of the year 2000. History is being made every day! To an observer without a life-or-death position for either candidate, it is quite an exciting time to see our government in action, going into situations which have never occurred before, but for which there are legal provisions already in place thanks to the wisdom of our forefathers.

Unfortunately, it seems that there are very few of us observers without a life-or-death position. The conflict is complicated by the even division of the two parties among American voters. Only a few hundred thousand votes, out of a hundred million, separate the two candidates. In Florida, it appears that figure is less than one thousand votes. The Florida Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court, the United States Senate - all are nearly completely split down the middle. This hair's breadth of difference has energized partisan supporters on both sides. In the sense that future elections will see a better informed electorate, this can be a good effect.

For the present, there are hard feelings on both sides as demonstrators try to shout one another down - as if they can accomplish their purpose by vocal volume and intimidation. The atmosphere resembles nothing so much as a hotly contested football rivalry, complete with cheerleaders. While listening to news reporters broadcasting live on the scene, we can hear crowds chanting "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. ____ ______ must go."

Is this healthy for individuals or for our country? How did we get to this point?

On the one hand, we Americans don't just want to win; we want to win big, with no doubt of our superiority. Look at the Olympics; look at the Ryder Cup of golf. The sports metaphor is very relevant as it translates into our daily personal relationships. We want our opponents to know how thoroughly we've whipped them.

We don't just want total victory with international competition, of course. Within most states, rivalries between universities for supremacy on the football field become so intense that true hard feelings are engendered between alumni and fans. Professional sports teams have fans so rabid they regard defeat as a personal disaster. We now have learned to approach politics in the same way we approach sports.

It's difficult to avoid the sense that, despite the near-even division of the electorate, the winner will claim a mandate for his policies over the opposition. "To the victor go the spoils."

This is the Vince Lombardi philosophy ("Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.") That philosophy may be appropriate for athletic competition, but we risk great danger if we apply it to business or organizational behavior, to say nothing of personal relationships.

Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989) lists Habit 4 as "Think Win/Win." He says:

Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions...Win/Win sees life as a cooperative, not a competitive arena. Most people tend to think in terms of dichotomies: strong or weak, hardball or softball, win or lose. But that kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed. It's based on power and position rather than on principle. Win/Win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, that one person's success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.

Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative. It's not your way or my way; it's a better way, a higher way.

But how can we possibly practice Win/Win in politics? After all, the nature of the vote is that someone doesn't get our vote; someone loses. Let me suggest that Win/Win goes beyond the persons who compete in the election. It involves the realization that, despite our political party differences, we all are citizens of the same nation. We all have our ideas of what is best for the welfare of our nation, but the key is that we all do want what is best. Win/Win means that we can move away from an election and get on with our national life, working together instead of trying to impair the working of our opposition. It means cooperation.

At the beginning of the chapter on Habit 4, Covey quotes Edwin Markham:

We have committed the Golden Rule to memory;
Let us now commit it to life.

At this Christmas season, my wish for you is that we can move beyond conflict and creating enemies; beyond our differences, to the things we have in common, to mutual respect, to working together for common good.

My wish is that the original Win/Win, the Spirit of love, the Christ we commemorate, may empower our lives so we can act in love toward one another despite our differences.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old, familiar carols play
And wild and sweet, the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head,
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor does he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Grace, peace, and love to you,

Becky Allison