Monday, October 22, 2012

The Game and The Art

Last July 60 at-risk High School youth from East Stroudsburg University's (ESU) UPWARD BOUND program played the Samurai Game® accompanied by The Art of Practice & Organizational Dojo.

Since its creation the Game has existed to address core issues related to conflict, specifically in its ultimate form - war.  The Game's author, George Leonard, used it to beg this question: "We know that throughout history war has done nothing but destroy. So why do we, the most intelligent species on the planet keep practicing it?"
In an effort to provide youth with alternatives to conflict ESU's Upward Bound Director Uriel Trujillo requested the July program.  As a result he and those young people inspired this writing.  

Upward Bound   
(continuing from the August and September 2012 issues of The Ronin Post)

Today, in 2012, our national conflicts are front and center. We are engaged in a great debate. It's good that we debate; free speech is important. We are gearing up to an election. Also good - we can still freely elect. But is our debate being conducted or held as dialogue, a dignified communication of differing perspectives for the sake of learning and acting anew? Hardly. Rather, it offers little more than sound bite positioning. Little room exists for alternative perspectives regardless of what side the debater takes or to what political party he or she subscribes. How rigid we've become! This kind of rigidity, this unwillingness to look at a situation from alternative viewpoints, is symptomatic of war.

The kind of struggle we are engaged in as we run up to our election is not new. In Chapter I (The Coming Crisis) of his Civil War Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant wrote: "The [Constitutional] framers were wise in their generation and wanted to do the very best possible to secure their own liberty and independence, and that also of their descendants to the latest days." And he continued: "It is preposterous to suppose that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them, and under unforeseen contingencies."

Grant was 62 when he wrote his memoirs. He was reflecting on the kind of rigidity that drove his country to war against itself. To this day that war remains our bloodiest. A year after completing his writing Grant died. Grant, the self-deprecating and reluctant West Point man who returned to soldiering only after the needs of his nation demanded that he do so. Grant, who felt himself ill equipped to command, yet he rose to lead armies and their generals into battle. Grant, who accepted Robert E. Lee with dignity and afforded him respect (not humiliation) at the Appomattox Court House. Grant, the former 18th President of the United States who lived his last years in severe ill health, on borrowed money, and bankrupt by reason of "the rascality of a business partner" - his financial standing having been ruined due to "universal depression of all securities" (his own words). Grant, a man of the nineteenth century could well be described as a man living through own last decade.

Who said, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it", was it Burke? Perhaps Santayana? Maybe Churchill? Does who said it really matter? Probably not. But the WHY it was said it certainly does. And what truly matters is that these words remain relevant today.

What about learning, what does this word mean these days? Is learning simply a becoming aware of data, fact and information? OR, is learning an actualization accompanied by a transformation of practice? In other words, something NEW or DIFFERENT becomes so rooted and acted upon that past practices and realities (while never forgotten) dissolve to be replaced by new more effective actions and practices.

Of what value is it that we should continue to put forth the need to create peaceful practices rather than practices dedicated to increased conflict and war? Is it important that one be able to recognize what drives his or her personal desire or need to attack and/or fight (even against one's self) - when attacking and fighting have become unnecessary or counter productive, or both?

Five years ago I walked through Auschwitz. Its ground and barbed wire fences, barracks and ovens were silent reminders that surrendering to bigotry cannot work. But they also informed me that if mouths had spoken up (rather than remaining silent) and bodies had taken action (rather than remaining still) things in Europe and for the rest of the world would have been different from 1933 through today.

Where do our personal wars exist and what perpetuates them?   In 1957 a WWII veteran watching the film The Bridge Over the River Kwai had to step outside of the small theater. Why? Because the images on-screen returned him to a reality of vivid sights, feelings and odors twelve years past, memories so alive that his body shook uncontrollably. Only a silent lamppost on the street could console him. That man was my father. What were his wars about? Why did they start and why did they continue? How did they affect his family, his neighbors and his community?

In 2012, a young woman in Sonoma County, California, stands on a sidewalk outside her home and rages. Screaming insults and obscenities at her aunt, father and grandmother she's trying to get her way. She's my neighbor. What are her internal wars about? Why did they start? How long will they continue? Will she pass them along to a someday-to-be-fathered child? And if so, will she be aware enough to get it - that what goes around, comes around?

Reading Grant's memoirs I recall Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the story of America's post-Civil War westward expansion, and how it silenced the voice of our continent's indigenous people. Ever read it? As a study in the aftermaths and effects of war it should perhaps be required reading in high school history classes and college psychology courses.

The June 23, 2012 issue of TIME magazine (p 22-23) carries a sullen image of a young widow. Beside her are these words: "More U.S. soldiers have killed themselves than have died in the Afghan War. WHY can't the Army win the war on suicide?" As a former Army officer myself, my immediate response is that this war on suicide is not just the Army's problem. It's a problem that belongs to us all.

I step onto US soil, inbound from Hong Kong or Poland or Mexico or Australia or China, and am greeted by bodies vastly larger than what we all know to be healthy. We are at war with our own bodies?   Why? Don't we know we're killing ourselves? Obesity in America is rampant. In 1960 our nation's obesity level stood at 9.7%. By 1994 it had reached 24%. Today we sit at 36% and by 2030 we are expected to hit 42%. If we were to view what we doing to ourselves in the context of a national security issue our national debate over health care might get more traction than seen only within the context of it being a health issue. National security? Sure, why not? Historically, what has always happened to nations whose citizens became collectively ill prepared and unfit to care themselves, nations who relied on the technologies of their day and sought to hire in professional militaries in order to maintain the appearance of power and strength rather than finding strength (physical, mental and emotional) from the vast pool of the average people who lived within their boundaries?

Back to July and East Stroudsburg University and Uriel Trujillo's UPWARD BOUND PROGRAM. His students are walking into a world we have created with the help of our ancestors. Perhaps Uriel is onto something by inviting me to join him in small step, to assist his at-risk youth; helping them to seek alternative ways to deal with the stresses and conflicts of life, to consider principles of dignified and peaceful living, to think about what they might be able to then carry forward into the world they will inherit from us.

Interesting what thoughts a Game - in this case The Samurai Game® - can inspire.

© Lance Giroux, 2012

No comments: