In the run-up to the ‘04 election, journalists joked that if Senator John Kerry was asked for the time, he would give a thirty minute lecture on the making of wrist-watches. In contrast to Sen. Kerry’s verbosity, was the heavily circulated six-word explanation for America’s preemptive intervention in the Middle-East: “They hate us for our freedom.” This wasn’t a single-party catch-phrase; it was frequently used by members of both major parties. But as time has passed we’ve come to see that each of those six words carried with it its own depth and nuance. We’ve learned what many foreign policy experts knew in 2004…
..that “They” are not a single, collected body with a single, centralized, anti-Western agenda.
..that “hate” is not always the best way to describe the mood of everyone who takes issue with US foreign policy. In the case of many younger men and women, “disappointment” and “anger” are far more appropriate and accurate descriptions.
..that, even when “hate” is an accurate descriptor, it often isn’t “our freedom” that illicits hatred; it is what some of us choose to do with it. For example, the critique by many Muslims (though shared by even more with no religious affiliation) that American industry “exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools.”
Of course, this isn’t a blog about foreign policy. I’m not a foreign policy expert. I wouldn’t want to make the decisions necessary to be one; it’s a difficult and complicated endeavor deserving more nuance in communication than “They hate us for our freedom.” I am growing more comfortable with letting go of the comfort that comes from the aphorisms I often use. Certainly there is truth in simple words. Yet the power of truth is in how it is lived out. While simple words like “nothing is certain but death and taxes” or “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” or even “God is good” can be an impetus for a more courageous engagement with life, once I am engaged I find that I must move beyond the aphorism and embrace complexity and even, at times, contradiction.
I believe “God is good” with my whole self. I’ve bet my life on it, actually. Yet, I know that the lived reality of that aphorism is rather complex; that each of these words carries with it a world of complexity.
Aphorisms are not containers for truth. They are more like access points or doorways. From a distance, everything on the other side of a doorway is framed nicely and neatly. But once you are IN the doorway, the world on the other side is revealed to be made up of far more than the doorway can frame.