It seems that there's little room in our culture for peacemaking and mercy. During a recent episode of the public radio show This American Life, Dal LaMagna, an entrepreneur who made his fortune selling specialty grooming products, was featured because of his peacemaking work in Iraq. LaMagna had the idea that, if no one else was going to take any substantive steps toward brokering a peace agreement between the Iraqi insurgents and the American troops, he'd step in and do it himself.
LaMagna developed relationships with Sunni insurgents and was told that a cease-fire, for them, would come in one of two ways: Either the U.S. needed to pull out or the U.S. had to work against the corrupt Shia government (the one we installed after the invasion). The U.S. was, of course, willing to do neither and LaMagna was advised that oppressed Sunnis should take up their issues with the elected government — and the peace efforts remain stuck in the mud.
What was interesting was the reaction of folks back home to LaMagna's unpaid, self-financed work. He was called a traitor and accused of betraying his country because he went to Iraq and tried to bring an end to the war.
This citizen diplomat's experience isn't unique. People generally regard peacemaking with suspicion. They thirst for vengeance rather than reconciliation.
Consider the death of the 2-year-old Symmes Township girl who was left, by all reported indications, accidentally in a car during a recent heat wave. Her mother has already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. I've heard this compared to the Marcus Feisel case, and local blog discussions reveal voices brimming with vitriol.
Local peace activist Sister Alice Gerdeman says that she thinks mercy is too threatening for some people to swallow.
"We tend not to allow people to have a weakness of character," she says. "Maybe it's because we feel threatened that we might do the same thing."
Gerdeman says we all want to view ourselves as good people and it can be a terrifying thing to recognize that we're all fallible. With international wars, the fear is based in paranoia, she says — we feel more vulnerable because we're the lone superpower. We have more to protect.
These faults in our souls' foundations are critical and hold us back from growth and seize us in an endless cycle of fear and violence. Better to err in using an olive branch than a dagger in any case.
CONTACT STEPHEN CARTER-NOVOTNI: snovotni(at)citybeat.com