Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Standing Ground

When did we become sheep?

I remember a time when we stood up for ourselves. Whether it was a fight in the school yard, an argument in class, a ball game, a board game, a poker game, we played to win. Most of us competed without rancor or cheating, and few tried to actually drive their opponents into the ground, but we weren’t going for a tie. We were going for the trophy. Adults left us to play, to fight, and settle our differences (provided no one lost an eye or limb), and, generally, we settled our differences to play another day.

Then dawned the gentle times. We came to believe that the very act of losing bred low self-esteem, and was, by definition, abhorrent. The games weren’t about competition. They were about camaraderie and team-building. Everyone was valuable; therefore, everyone was a winner. Trophies for Most Valuable Player were replaced with “Most Improved”, “Tries Hardest, and “Loudest Cheerer”. Fighting was never tolerated, and differences were settled quietly – or not at all. Tied games became the very best outcome, until we did away with scoring all together. We forgot that competition held value, and it was the pursuit that made excellence possible. Victory became a dirty word in some circles: too raw, too distasteful, too barbaric.

Obviously, not everyone has converted. For every soccer mom, there is a corporate raider. For every non-partisan cheer-leader, there is a king of cronyism. For every person who turns the other cheek, there is another willing to raise a .45 to his face. We have always had nations of sheep and wolves, but the borders have become wilder. The sheep band together, dreaming of peace and quiet, while the wolves prowl the perimeter, picking off the weak. The sheep wish for fairness, while the wolves leverage advantage. The sheep cry foul, begging to be left alone, while the wolves dine heartily on mutton and lamb chops.

And now, it appears that the sheep are losing the capacity to rise up and fight off the wolves. They have forgotten that peace and prosperity must be defended. They have forgotten that sheep that fail to stand up, raise voice in protest, and raise arms against aggression, find the wolves streaming quietly from the shadows, unhindered. Without warning, the sheep nation is under attack, invaded, disenfranchised, evicted, powerless, bereft and draw into conflicts they would have rejected, had they only the mettle to stand up.

Not only must we stand up, but we must band together (strength in numbers). We must remember how to play rough-and-tumble, and to enjoy the muddy wins. All the relationship-strengthening gentle conversations, consensus and compromises fail when we are unable to raise our voices, declare our ambitions, and then stand our ground when the wolves come.

Because, the wolves will not be turned aside gently.

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