April 7, 2020

Choosing Goodwill

By Stephen Tuttle | Dec. 16, 2017


This is the season, we're told, of peace and goodwill on earth, the birth day of the Prince of Peace. Or at least the day Christians have chosen to celebrate the birthday.

Alas, we seem no closer to peace on earth or goodwill toward anyone than we've ever been. You could make a convincing argument for the contrary: less peace and open hostility everywhere.

There is active fighting of one sort or another in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Chechnya region of Russia, the Ukrainian border ... there are more.

The so-called Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaida and its mutant offspring have executed attacks in more than 30 countries. The thuggish murderers, whom we've elevated by calling them terrorists, still try to run over people or blow them up. Mass murders strike a couple times a week here in the United States without much fanfare, unless the body count is shocking enough. 

The world is infected with all manner of mayhem, with even worse potential on the immediate horizon, courtesy of a North Korean megalomaniac and an American president who acts like this a schoolyard taunting contest.

To be fair, there is always talk of peace. Young Jarred Kushner, the president's senior advisor and son-in-law, has been leading or organizing or doing something regarding negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. He hasn't informed the State Department, so no one is exactly sure where he is with this project.

And we talk, one suspects with some futility, to the North Koreans. They're also talking in Zimbabwe, where they just ousted a dictator; in South Sudan, while war rages; in Somalia, where famine could kill millions and so on. 

Not much actual peace.

But surely there must be some goodwill someplace, even in politics.

OK, maybe not among politicians, nearly all of whom have misplaced their goodwill and can't seem to find it. They've replaced common courtesy with scorched earth attacks. It's a bipartisan strategy carefully crafted through negative research and a willingness to be as unpleasant as possible. They do like to smile for pictures at their fundraising events, but that doesn't really count.   

It doesn't much help we have a president who insults and demeans any and all unwilling to acknowledge his self-proclaimed greatness. He uses social media like a 12-year-old trying to get even with the popular kids. Plenty of politicians from both sides of the aisle have gleefully followed suit.

And it seems some of us are anticipating the opposite of goodwill. Gun sales, which had slowed considerably during the Trump presidency, surged on Black Friday. Guns, mostly handguns, were one of the big sellers that day; the FBI received 210,000 background check requests, a single day record.

But there is some good news, too. Once we get away from the political hacks, dictators, and various warlords, and into the world in which most of us exist, things get a lot better.

And there really is plenty of good will among regular folks, local organizations and local folks working for national organizations.

There's the Father Fred Foundation, Salvation Army, Women's Resource Center, nearly all local churches, St. Vincent de Paul, Toys for Tots, and many, many others. They offer clothes, food beyond just a free meal, school supplies, and they'll repair a furnace or patch a roof just because it is the right thing to do.

We're an awful lot better at peace and goodwill individually than our fearless leaders seem to be collectively. And not just at this time of year. 

While governments threaten and invade and bomb, individuals reassure, repair and resolve to help their neighbors. We talk about it more this time of year — and there is more good cheer now — but people are willingly making sacrifices to help other people every day. If we ignore the crass and ugly behavior of our politicians and look to our neighbors, the picture, and our hopes, become brighter.     

Peace might be out of our hands given the temperament in some parts of the world these days. We negotiate with “cautious optimism,” but all the while the killing goes on. Real peace remains the most elusive ideal.    

Hope for peace is about the best we can do, holidays or not. But goodwill is a personal choice we can make simply by making it. It requires no legislation or ordinances or even much effort; a willingness to treat each other decently is enough.

There's nothing preventing all of us from extending the kindnesses we share during the holidays to the rest of the year. Perhaps even our politicians would learn to follow our example. That would be a most excellent gift any time of year. 














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