I love the word “grace” as Doc uses it, so well and frequently. A grace is a boon offered without asking – a benefit that connotes a kind of divinity, whatever its source. Surely there’s no more human gift than this, acting on our highest instincts, and we may achieve it only a few times in our life. The absence of grace is what makes life nasty, brutish and short.
The defining trait of civilization is forbearance, by which we refuse to act as drastically our instincts urge us. Where grace is an exception, forbearance is the rule. Most of us do not cut each other off in traffic or react to most verbal slights. We are especially patient with children and others of reduced social capacity.
Forbearance is not only civilization’s fruit, it is also its marker. For what is civilization, but a dance of mutual forbearance? Families are the crucible of forbearance, and we cannot comprehend it unless we study its practitioners at home, from birth. No wonder so few of us master this bright art.
Extend and Embrace
Just as families forge forbearance into national cultures, so must higher functioning nations practice restraint in dealing with the less disciplined societies. In fact, wouldn’t that be the sole marker of authentic power? Children and weaklings are never in a position to exercise forbearance – it can only be extended by those with the power to prevail. This unique brand of of American forbearance seems to have been in remission the last few years. The unilateral, gratuitous invasion of Iraq aroused a lot of dismay from those who conflate forbearance with America: “WTF?!! America doesn’t attack first!”
Similar reactions followed the disclosure of our torture of prisoners. Now we’re wondering why the gummint needs to listen in on so many conversations. The point is not that we will do anything we can in order to protect ourselves – we remain appropriately reluctant to nuke Iran or North Korea, at least at this point.
I know a little bit about making a personal investment in our country’s forbearance. In 1968, our C-130 was shot down by a North Vietnamese gunner who strolled over from Cambodia every day to ply his craft off the runway at Katum, Vietnam. So I’m not speaking from a theoretical viewpoint. I say again: all wars have consequences, even the Global War On Terrorism. We need to assume the wrath of fundamentalists will cause more deaths in this country. But we’re now the front line warriors and we should expect to lose a few of us. If you think not, then you’re saying that you’re not prepared to give your life for your country.
New Year, No Fear
So I propose a toast to American Forbearance: a mighty, globally-respected brand that the current management is trashing beyond recognition. Let’s celebrate the rule of law, even when inconvenient – some call it law and order. Let’s be honest about our fears and rise above them rather than follow them further into this dark night of our national soul.
And let’s remember that being tough is how you take it, not how you dish it out. You know, like Jesus.