“I’ll never do that again!”
All of us from childhood on have horrible experiences we don’t want to repeat, eras we never want to live through ever again, and mistakes we’ve paid a terrible price for committing.
So we make a vow–never again!
Then we build a life of reaction, a life organized against that outcome.
And whenever we come anywhere near that tormented place, or whenever we begin to feel like we’re in that place again, we go ballistic, shut down, freak out, etc.
We can learn a lot about ourselves by our reactions to life’s events.
We do this individually. And we do this collectively and nationally.
Which is why I find it very interesting our current debate on the merits of going to war against ISIS to be revealing.
For the Republicans, some are haunted by weakness shown in the face of communism and the aggression that American weakness invited.
The solution is to stand strong and be resolutely tough when confronted by a world-wide enemy.
Other Republicans are haunted by the stalemated wars and fiscal ineptitude we displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan–conditions which led to wholesale Republican losses in the late 2000’s.
So their solution is to allow foreign nations to fight it out and not be involved at all.
On the Democratic side, the Vietnam war still haunts many of the aged anti-war activists.
They, too, have strong reasons to not involve us in a foreign war–not the least of which is they would have to admit they are just as bad as their parents or, worse, their parents were right after all.
It’s not easy to go from an anti-war protester in one’s youth to a warrior against terror in their old age.
Other Democrats are haunted by the debacle of the Jimmy Carter administration, and the charge that they were soft on communism and weak in standing up to it.
So they want at all times to be perceived as standing strong against any world-wide threats to our nation.
The problem with all the above is living life in reaction against something in our past is not wisdom.
It’s usually folly.
And people who can press our buttons and pull our chains can use our reactions against us.
The problem with reactions is they always pendulum into over-reactions.
Seeking to never repeat a mistake, we make the opposite mistake.
The strictly-raised child becomes overindulgent. The overly indulged child become super-strict.
And so we pendulum back and forth, back and forth–with no insight, no wisdom, and an endless chain of over-corrections cascading down through the generations.
Which is why we are so prone as a populace to being manipulated by politicians, and why we are so delicious a target for terrorists.
We always reward any publicity-seeking group with overdrive publicity and national hand-wringing and over-aggressive (or over-dithering) responses.
We have too many ghosts from our past that still haunt us.
And the only way to exorcise them is to face them openly, squarely, and honestly.
It’s where we ask God to connect the dots between our past and our present reactions–showing us why we do what we do.
It’s where we admit we are trying to manage our unmanageable and painful past.
It’s where we admit we are powerless to avoid a repeat, and our self-constructed life of reaction will never succeed.
It’s where we realize that God has an agenda to recreate the feelings and the similarity of something we deeply fear, and to apply His love to us there.
And when we are loved instead of destroyed in the very place we most wished to avoid, then we are truly free.
This is true individually. And this is true nationally.
Our reactive and counter-reactive politics will only change when leaders and followers on all sides get radically honest, stop finger-pointing and blaming, and humble themselves before God as lost, little children.
And until that day comes, I’m afraid we are doomed to endless reactions and counter-reactions that defy all superficial efforts to fix them.
As Jeremiah said long ago, “They cry, “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace.”