Features & Perspectives

Some years ago, I co-taught a course on change theory with the president of a South Asian NGO at Duke Divinity School's Summer Peace Institute. His name was Samuel and much of his life's work had involved negotiating peace between "tribes" of people in the developing world who had been forced into common lands by Western Colonial countries who either did not know or did not care about the long and deep historical differences between the tribes.

About a year after our class, Sam came to Washington, D.C. to visit U.S.A.I.D. We agreed that I would pick him up at the train station and take him to lunch at his hotel. That journey included a number of the short and heavily traffic signaled blocks on Constitution Avenue. As fate would have it, our car was in the front of the line at four successive red lights. Each time the light would change to green, even though I had already began to move, the driver of the cab behind me would blow his horn.

After the third time, and after stopping at the fourth red light, I jumped out of the car, raced to the cab, grabbed the driver by his shirt collar and told him to stop blowing the bleeping horn. He reached under the seat, retrieved a pistol and suggested that I return to my car before the light changes to green.

Samuel, disappointed by what he had seen, observed quietly, "Friend David, it is only a horn; yet it can ignite a veritable war when different 'tribes' are forced to travel the same road at the same time. We must know what injustices are worth dying for so that we don't waste our lives over annoying 'horns.'" Over lunch, Samuel lamented the violent effect of the "horns," loud strong men full of insecurities who fed their need for power by loudly voicing the fears of those who are afraid that other tribes have entered their territory.

In recent years, nearly every region of our globe has experienced "tribal" conflict, only to see the rise in power of the kind of leader Sam described. I worry that it is a current of action that will lead to violent conflicts and unusual injustices.

A learning community like ours is not exempt from such currents. We can have much knowledge, but little understanding. So, as we move through this divisive election season, let us hear the words of Samuel the peacemaker and resolve to add to our knowledge, understanding of others. My mentor, Paul Hayes, was of the Cherokee Nation. His response to my suggestions that walking a mile in a colleague's shoes would be a good thing was, "Oh David, you Anglos are so impatient; we commit to walking a full turn of the moon in another's moccasins."

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