Tag Archives: University of Virginia

Seeds of Division

13 Apr

“May you live in interesting times.”  The origin and meaning of this phrase is a matter of debate.  Some look upon it as a curse, made even more powerful of course if you scowl at your enemies and snarl at them as you squeeze out the venomous words meaning in effect “may you live in an insecure time full of challenges.”  Maybe you could throw in a “you scoundrel” for good effect.   For me, I look upon the phrase as a blessing.  Even if it was delivered by someone wishing me ill will.  But then, of course, I am also a big fan of “what does not kill us makes us stronger.” So, take my point of view with a grain of salt.  Anyway, I look at our current times and can say that we definitely live in interesting times (read:  full of challenges, uncertainty).   To me, that is a good thing.  Why? Because it is an opportunity to reflect, connect and recast.  Meaning, reflect upon where we have been and where we are.  Then connect to what is truly important and recast our present direction and, connected to that, influence our future.

So, today we learned that the peace institute for which I work was spared the Congressional axe. We survived after having been placed upon the chopping block where our peace loving selves were condemned due to a variety of reasons that I don’t have the energy right now to set forth. (Okay, so I have a tad bit of energy to throw out a few of the reasons:  politics, misinformation.) So we squeaked by this year.  (Very proud of our pulling together in the time of crisis and extremely honored and humbled by the support that we received from so many corners.  Makes me downright misty eyed to see how many people spoke from the heart and came to our defense. Not to mention that there is a part of me that feels that all of us can use a bit of crisis to cast off the things that were holding us back and truly rise to our best form.  So adversity, in the end, is a positive.  How will we fare next year?  Well, our lot will be cast with a much larger lot.  A lot that I dare say is much larger than a tiny little peace institute.  (See my earlier blog about a budget the size of a dust speck.  That would be us.)   Cast with a lot that I would say is in fact our nation’s future.

Now, I don’t want to get too heavy here.  But I can’t help it.  Really.  You see, Thomas Jefferson (TJ for short) has been haranguing me for well over a month.  I just can’t get TJ outta my head. It started when I was asked to speak in March at a University of Virginia law (UVA) school symposium on the role of the military in promoting the rule of law.   I work with our nation’s military and other countries’ militaries.  I very much enjoy the work.    At the time of my presentation, the revolution in Egypt was ongoing and the Egyptian military’s role was front and center.  So I was inspired (nearly compelled, actually) to connect what was happening in Egypt with my thoughts on the role of the military in peace operations overseas and tie it all together with Thomas Jefferson.

Why TJ? Well, initially because TJ founded UVA and citing him at a UVA function was ever so natural.  But it went deeper than that, actually.  In reading about TJ and finding quotes, I found myself pondering and reflecting back to our nation’s founding days and asking myself, what would TJ say about this?   What would he say about the situation in Egypt? Or about other countries where a small handful of power elites have captured the government and bestow jobs to their small group and rule for their own group’s interests?  Where people see that who you know determines whether you will be held accountable for crime and corruption, or not.   Where there is no political will on the part of the leaders to establish rule of law because they see no value to them in doing so.   What would TJ say?  Well, he would say,

“Justice is the fundamental law of society.” –Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816.

“No nation however powerful, any more than an individual, can be unjust with impunity.  Sooner or later, public opinion, an instrument merely moral in the beginning, will find occasion physically to inflict its sentences on the unjust… The lesson is useful to the weak as well as the strong.” – Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1804.

So, TJ spoke.  I saw the relevance to this for what was happening in Egypt and the other many countries who are in the midst of turmoil as the disconnect between what is and is not just, is being played out in the streets.  Then I reflect on our own country and I do hope that in the current environment, where we as a country are in the midst of our own reflection, that we find that what unites us, is greater than what divides us.

I read an article today in Vanity Fair (http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105?printable=true#ixzz1Iz80IswX) and immediately thought back 13 years ago, after I returned from Bosnia, after I had witnessed how society divided along lines of separateness and devastating violence ensued.   At that time, I wondered, could America divide too, as it had in the past? I felt deep down it was possible, although at the time, when I spoke of it, my friends thought I was out there. The author of the Vanity Fair article asks, “When will it come to America?”  I would like to answer that it won’t. That the interesting times we are living in will makes us stronger as a whole and not become fragmented along socio-economic and political divides.

Well now, after all that, there is in fact a connection to my garden in all of this.   My seedling count is significantly lower than it was just a week ago.   All my eggplant seedlings have died.  I am left with just three pepper seedlings after starting with well over a dozen.  My tomato seedlings are holding their own.  Why the death of all the eggplants and majority of the peppers? I realized that my comfort level was with the tomatoes, having grown them for three years and having great success.  I understood tomatoes.  So I assumed the eggplant and peppers would follow suit.   Yet what I failed to recognize is that eggplants and peppers had different needs.  They needed a warmer climate, something that a heating pad and plastic covering would have provided.   I could have kept all the tomato, eggplant and pepper seedlings together but provided slightly different support systems to them. A simple approach, had I taken the time to look into it.  They all would have thrived, but I assumed they all would prosper according to the needs of one group.  So there is a lesson in this for me.  And I would venture a lesson in this for us as a collective group of people who cannot all survive unless we figure out a way that we can do so together, even if it means that we need to make accomodations for each other.

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