Please share this with your friends and
loved ones: To safeguard their futures, and the future of our great
nation, we must all understand the moral of this story.
When I was 9, a boy my age named Billy Tanner moved into the house
across the street. He and his six brothers and sisters were taught,
with the aid of belts and paddles, to obey their father instantly,
without question or argument. Billy always looked anxious and lied a
lot but was clearly lonely, so we invited him over when we played jump
rope or make-believe.
Trouble was, Mr. Tanner grew to be so feared and hated in the
neighborhood that people started avoiding Billy like the plague – you
never knew when his father would take offense at something one of us
did or said, and come hollering down the road with threats and
Mr. Tanner was a man with a short fuse and a long memory. He
believed in defeating every enemy and righting every wrong, real or
imagined. He once squared off, in the middle of the street, in a most
undignified confrontation with the nice vacuum salesman who lived two
doors down. I remember how the grownups watched from behind the slats
of their Venetian blinds, too scared to intervene or even walk outside.
The kids watched in amazement, hoping for some real excitement. In the
end, it was just embarrassing.
When Strong Is Wrong
Worst of all, though he ruled his kids
(and their mother) with an iron fist, Mr. Tanner was at his most
violent and dangerous when Billy was taunted and teased, as he often
was, poor child, because he lied compulsively in his habitual effort to
avoid punishment. It always seemed odd to us that Mr. Tanner would
defend so vigorously the child he bullied on a daily basis.
What we didn't understand was that Mr. Tanner was defending his own
honor, not Billy's. When he'd come roaring down the street to yell at
some child or parent to "protect" Billy from an insult, offense, or
supposed threat, he certainly wasn't making Billy's life any safer or
better. Billy would cringe and stand as far back as he could (or go
home and hide until it was over), knowing that he'd have even fewer
friends the next day.
It was a vicious cycle. If Billy showed any sadness or anger after
being rejected by someone, his father would spring into action. If Mr.
Tanner was anything, he was a strong, decisive leader. He didn't waffle
or, to use today's term, "flip-flop," whenever he perceived a threat to
his son's honor. He was a man of few words, a straight shooter who
didn't need to waste time gathering all the facts or hearing the other
kid's side of the story. And, as Mrs. Tanner and the rest of us knew
all too well, he wasn't afraid to use force.
Thanks to his father's vigorous pursuit of all enemies and the
families that harbored them, by the time Billy was a teenager he had no
allies and no friends. But he did have a burgeoning mean streak and a
growing list of enemies.
Beware the Boomerang Effect
It's tempting to think that, if you
just hit every enemy and his neighbors hard enough, pretty soon you'll
be safe and free and happy. But the way this kind of "defense" really
works is more like that arcade game where every time you try to hammer
the wooden "critters" with a wooden mallet, more of them pop up. The
harder you hit them, the faster others pop up, and the more frustrated
you get. Finally, the buzzer sounds and you walk away wishing you
hadn't spent all those quarters on a game that was rigged from the
But what happens when your president defends you by attacking every
Tom, Dick, and Harry who happens to be in the vicinity of every enemy
or suspected enemy is even worse. Like a boomerang, the violence your
leader wields to restore your (and his) pride, right past wrongs, or
defend against insults and threats begins – suddenly or gradually –
veering back toward you. Pretty soon you're running for cover from new
violence by new enemies, brought about by the very national "defense"
that's supposed to be protecting you.
When Mr. Bush said that God told him to strike al-Qaeda, was it
really God telling him to bomb the people – terrorists, the
Taliban, "insurgents," and civilian girls and boys, men and women alike
– of Afghanistan and Iraq, or was it his burning desire to achieve
historic status as the God-appointed war president? Take a look at the
evidence: We the people of America are left holding the bag, with Osama
bin Laden still sending videotaped messages four years later, pulling
our strings and threatening our lives.
"The leaders' own personal reactions to diplomatic successes and
failures may play an important role in their decision to initiate war.
A diplomatic triumph or defeat raises or lowers their self-esteem.
Their personal elation or distress shapes the national mood and spreads
throughout the country. The personal desire of the political elite for
power and prestige often biases their determination of the best
interest of their group or state. Their subjective analysis of the
costs, benefits, and risks or war may override their concerns for their
– Dr. Aaron Beck, Prisoners
of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence
This election day, Americans will finally have the chance to vote
for a change. What we need now isn't a "strong, decisive leader" who
plays dress-up on aircraft carriers and childishly promises to "rid the
world of evil." What Americans desperately need now is a grownup
president who's able to stop, listen, and think before he acts. We need
a president who understands the Boomerang Effect.
Already we find ourselves abandoned by many former friends and
allies. Already we've accumulated more enemies than anyone ever dreamed
possible, in too many spots around the globe to keep track of, much
less defeat "decisively." Already we feel alone, scared and
increasingly dependent on a president who's defending us to death.
This Tuesday, we can vote for four more years of knee-jerk reactions
and foolish arrogance, or we can vote to get off this
violence-retaliation-violence merry-go-round. We can reevaluate our
core values, choosing wisdom over impulsivity and substance over
appearance. We can choose diplomacy, humility, and cooperation with
others, pledging to put a stop to the Bush administration's boomerang
policy of violent "self-defense" that has infected Christianity, made
us more vulnerable than ever, and led us to forget who we really are.
We can do better. For the sake of our children and our
grandchildren, we must.