May 2003 #1

Moral Victory in Conflict

Over the last week we've seen our Prime Minister trot around the globe at the behest of his international masters.

While in Texas he was entertained by George Bush who unashamedly declared John Howard - "a man of steel".

Then in London Tony Blair called Howard a strong leader who was dependable.

However, Howard still refuses to comment on his Governor General.

What are we learning from these events? One thing I have learnt over time is that moral victories are not easily won, and by looking at some of those who have taken moral stands what comparisons can we make with our present bunch of "strong men".

What is it about people like Martin Luther King Jnr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson and "our own" Noel Pearson? Why is that despite the immense publicity that their lives and works generated, they remain, in the public eye, icons of moral fortitude?

We shouldn't forget that these people had their weaknesses and were far from perfect. They have their own detractors, but in the main, their humane work is not questioned. Some of their personal traits perhaps, but not their works.

In my short and unremarkable life I have come to know some people who hold power, some who command respect and many who strive to gain and hold power and command respect. It is within this last category that I would place the so-called leaders of the coalition of the willing.

These men, these Christian men no less, who are holders of great power, may be able to command coercive force, but their moral force is surely lacking.

The other men and women noted previously I would put in the first two categories. My reasoning is this.

In the case of King, Mother Teresa, Mandela, Robinson, and Pearson, they gained moral power by joining in the struggle of those they sought to advocate for. Mandela and Robinson did hold public office, but even they, during that time, remained a part of the lives of the people from whom they came.

These women and men never lost touch with the fact that they were servants and as such, held certain power over those who would be their masters. The accolades that have been showered on them have come from those who have been served by them or those whom they serve - their respective constituencies. In the main, these people didn't need to argue and attempt to justify what it was they were attempting to do.

We should ask why it is that they have been pilloried, criticised and imprisoned by those who strive for power and respect?

Perhaps the reason is to be found in the very centre of our beings. That part of us that resonates to the human condition. That part of us that is capable of understanding we are not isolated atomised individuals who must do all we can to consume all available resources. That part of us that is capable of understanding far more than our would be rulers hope we can.

If we attempt to understand those whom we have appointed as our leaders, we could apply the same criteria of measurement. That is, we can never know what lies in the hearts of others, all we can go on is the outcome of their inner motivations, as demonstrated through their acts. In other words, what behaviours do they display, and what are the material, real outcomes of those behaviours. 

In the case of our world leaders we find their actions and inaction continue to feed the combatants in over 60 wars still being fought in places such as Sierra Leon, Afghanistan (don't believe them when they tell its all over there), Sudan, the Congo, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Tibet.

We find the so called "leaders of the free world" allowing slave and prison labour to be employed by some of the worlds largest companies in such places and the Philippines, China, Mexico, Honduras and, dare I say it, the suburbs of Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.

The visible results of our moral decisions can be seen in the everyday acts we engage in or allow to occur or allow to continue to occur.

When we ask what side are you on (or in Texas speak "you're either with us or against us"), it becomes fairly apparent which side the previously named individuals are on. For those who command coercive force, their side of the battle is quite clear. They are in no way on the side of those whom they claim to represent. For those whose hearts remained planted in the communities from which they sprang or to whom they became part of, their acts demonstrate moral commitment to those whose voices will never be heard in the "great halls of power".

So, who is winning the moral battles? It would seem that if we apply the criteria of asking what are the outcomes of the inner working of the hearts of
these women and men, its obvious that our so called leaders are fighting on the losing side - for the moment.

It a strange conundrum isn't it, that during a certain phase of a child's development, it will go through a period where it will cry, lash out, violently respond or sulk if it doesn't get its own way. The recent acts of our coalition of the willing leadership seem to indicate that they haven't yet reached a level of maturity that reflects moral development.

Maybe that is the real problem, not the still hidden smoking guns, or still to be found WMD's.

Perhaps its time we began to demand a level of moral fortitude of our so called leaders that is at least equivalent to or greater than those men and women who can definitely say they were or are on our side. Because as the coming battles begin to effect us closer to home, it will be important to know who we can turn to and trust.

To whose moral code will you turn when the time comes? How you choose to answer that question will, in small part, determine the future of our whole community.