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Philosophy Tuesday

June 9, 2015

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

I’ve got a little martial arts story that I’d say applies very well as a philosophical analogy.

One day we were practicing joint locks and grappling in class, and Sifu was showing us a move, and then the counter, and then the counter to the counter. Every move had a counter movement, which could be countered, and so on. Best of all, the counters came not from resistance, but from responding.

As Sifu put one of my classmates in a joint lock and secured it, the classmate asked “What’s the counter from here, Sifu?” Sifu replied, “Nothing. It’s too late, the move is done. You need to counter before this point.”

There is a challenge often posed to those who walk the philosophical paths: “So when someone’s got a knife at your throat, what do you do then?”

That’s a trick question. At that point, it is probably too late. The moves, the responses, need to come before that moment.

When the knives are at throats, be it screaming, punching, actual knives – or worse, those moments knives didn’t suddenly appear. There are no bogeymen who apparate from the ether, ready to strike and stab and spear. There was a path that lead to that moment, a path that became one of anger, where one felt so under siege, so unheard, and so trapped that it became unbearable. The only path that seemed left was to blame and to lash out. Anger lead to hate.

Bleed the anger, and you prevent the hate — in both directions.

But you need to bleed the anger before the knife is at your throat. This takes being present, listening, empathy, compassion, and humility. Humility to recognize and even take on that you had something to do with their anger and with the situation(s) that would drive them to this action. Not as blame, but as responsibility, a place to stand that grants you agency.

We can do this in our own lives, in our communities, and between societies and nations.

And if you missed it, and if the knife is now at your throat, you can start right now. And do so knowing that, as it took time to get to this point, it will take time to move away from it, and your throat may get cut a few times.* It will certainly take more work to walk back now than it would have had your responded before. But it is an action still worth doing, to keep more knives from being put on more throats.

It is a practice, and it takes a lifelong of practice. And what it could make available for our lives, for our communities, for nations, and for the world, is remarkable. It is a practice worth engaging in.

* Slightly mixed metaphors here…

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