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  • I’m always up for a good debate. My father once said of me, “Ol’ Pete never met an argument he didn’t like!”, or something like that. And, it’s true. I do like to have good, spirited dialogue over issues. I think it’s a good way to bring all of the aspects of an issue to the surface, and it works well, as long as the parties engaged in the debate know not to take any of it personally, and can engage in the debate without judgement. That’s the most important thing, but certainly the most difficult, challenge of a debate.

    One of my very favorite people in American media is George Will. George and I don’t agree on many of the larger issues, but I just love George’s thought-process and the way he arrives at his conclusions. I also love that he doesn’t have to have an answer on all subjects. If he doesn’t know, he’ll simply say he doesn’t know. Besides, he’s almost as big a baseball fan as I am, and I’ve seen him at the ballpark in D.C. at many a Nationals’ game. I once rode up the media elevator with him. I wasn’t supposed to be on that elevator, but a security guard mistook me for a writer, and directed me to it. I thought that was kind of funny. George got on right after me. We talked baseball on the way up to the media level. They let him in the press box. They sent me packing. It wasn’t as easy sneaking into the press box as it was when I was a kid!

    My sponser once told a story about judgement. This story happened in the days of Lao Tzu in China, and Lao Tzu loved it very much.

    There was an old man in a village, very poor, but even kings were jealous of him because he had a beautiful white horse. Such a horse had never been seen before — the beauty, the very grandeur, the strength. Kings asked for the horse and they offered fabulous prices, but the old man would say, ‘This horse is not a horse to me, he is my friend. He is not a possession. How can you sell a friend? No, it is not possible.’ The man was poor, there was every temptation, but he never sold the horse.

    One morning, he suddenly found that the horse was not in the stable. The whole village gathered and they said, ‘You foolish old man. We knew it beforehand, that some day the horse would be stolen. And you are so poor — how can you protect such a precious thing? It would have been better to sell it. You could have fetched any price you asked, any fancy price was possible. Now the horse is gone. It is a curse, a misfortune.’

    The old man said, ‘I do not know whetehr it is a curse or a misfortune, I only know that the horse was my friend, and now he is gone, and I am saddened by his loss.’

    People laughed. They thought the old man had gone mad. They always knew it, that he was a little crazy; otherwise he would have sold this horse and lived in riches. But he was living like a woodcutter, and he was very old and still cutting wood and bringing the wood from the forest and selling it. He was living hand to mouth, in misery and poverty. Now it was completely certain that this man was crazy. After fifteen days, suddenly one night, the horse returned. He had not been stolen: he had escaped to the wilderness. And not only did he come back, he brought a dozen wild horses with him.

    Again the people gathered and they said, ‘Old man, you were right and we were wrong. It was not a misfortune, it proved to be a blessing. We are sorry that we insisted.’

    The old man said, ‘Who knows whether it is a blessing or not? I only know that my dear friend went away and I was saddened, and now he has returned with more friends, and so I am joyous. It is not mine to tell whether ‘tis a blessing or a curse. ’

    This time the people could not say much; maybe the old man was again right. So they kept silent, but inside they knew well that he was wrong. Twelve beautiful horses had come.

    The old man had an only son. The young son started to train the wild horses; just a week later he fell from a wild horse and his legs were broken. The people gathered again, and again they judged the situation. Judgment comes so easily! They said, ‘You were right, again you proved right. It was not a blessing, it was indeed a misfortune and a curse. Your only son has lost his legs, and in your old age he was your only support. Now you are poorer than ever.’

    The old man said, ‘Who knows whether this is a misfortune or a blessing? I only know that my son has two broken legs and cannot help me with my business, and I will do my best to nurse him back to health’.

    It happened that after a few weeks the country went to war with a neighbouring country, and all the young men of the town were forcibly taken for the military. Only the old man’s son was left because he was crippled. The people gathered, crying and weeping, because from every house young people were forcibly taken away. And there was no possibility of their coming back, because the country that had attacked was a big country and the fight was a losing fight. They were not going to come back.

    The whole town was crying and weeping, and they came to the old man and they said, ‘You were right, old man! God knows, you were right — this proved a blessing. Maybe your son is crippled, but still he is with you. Our sons are gone for ever. At least he is alive and with you, and, by and by, he will start walking. Maybe a little limp will be left, but he will be okay.’

    The old man again said, ‘I do not know whether it is a blessing or a curse. I only know that your sons have been forced to enter into the military, into the army, and my son has not been forced to go. I am happy to have my son with me, but saddened that your sons have gone off to fight in the war.’

    The people just shook their heads and decided that the old man might not be so crazy, after all.

    That is all said to preface what I am about to say, and to illustrate what I hope will not be taken as judgment, but merely a question to try to understand, to reconcile a question that kind of befuddles me. It kind of goes back to when I was a teenager, and was being bullied and abused by a bunch of good, Christian young men who I had thought were friends. While I was a force on the football field, could take whatever anyone dished out on the field of play, and could dish it out myself as needed, I had been raised with a creed of non-violence. This had been reinforced one time when I was squaring off with the school bully on the corner of Pioneer and Dorchester Avenue, in Brookline section of Pittsburgh. I felt that I had to uphold my honor, as Ernie Brandy was harassing and challenging me, and I felt I had to meet the challenge and show that I could stand up to him. My older sister Juli happened along, and gave me hell for fighting, and told me that violence was no answer to any situation, and that I needed to find another way to resolve my disputes. I couldn’t argue with her logic, and Ernie just laughed at me and walked away, and talked about me like a dog for weeks afterwards. It was very humiliating. But, something about it stuck with me. I realized my sister was right. Violence was not a solution. When the guys I hung around with continued to treat me with violence and disrespect, even after I tried modeling respectful behavior and always treated them with dignity and respect, I just walked away. It took me 4 years to do so, but I walked away and never looked back. I have never had to resort to violence, in my life, to resolve any issue or dispute. I have called people’s bluff once or twice – let someone think they were going to have to deal with me, like the time I was in the jail cell with the crazy guy, but I just don’t see violence as a way to solve anything.

    In my lifetime, I saw the power of non-violence demonstrated by Martin Luther King, Jr. His example changed the world. So did Nelson Mandela, citing King’s example as an inspiration. So did Mahatma Ghandi, in India. King and Ghandi were cut down in the primes of their lives by violent actions, but they left a much broader, and longer lasting impact, by their strict adherence to a non-violent creed. The things that all three of these remarkable individuals achieved, could never have been achieved, with the tremendous impact that happened as a result, if they had ever resorted to violence to achieve their desired goals. In all three of their cases, violence could easily have been justified. But, they instead chose a higher path. They followed the non-violent teachings of the great spiritual teacher known as Jesus Christ.

    While I do not consider myself a Christian, as I have found it difficult to associate myself with the actions and behaviors that have been done in the name of Christianity, I do subscribe to the non-violent teachings of Jesus Christ. In my time, the most amazing transformations have happened as a result of others who have followed that creed. I am a believer. I hated my sister Juli at the time, for humiliating me on that corner in Brookline, causing me to be ridiculed by the neighborhood bully and reinforcing this non-violent creed into my being. I have silently thanked her many times over through the years, as I have chosen non-violence over violence on a number of occasions when I otherwise may have resorted to violence. One of the worst feelings I have ever experienced came after I finally kicked my older brother’s ass in a fight, after all the years of being put down and beaten up by him. I should have felt great, vindicated, triumphant – I was even fighting him over a worthy cause. The extent of how badly I felt, though, was my final reinforcement that violence is never the answer. Just as Jesus Christ taught. And Ghandi, King, and Mandela all demonstrated.

    I believe it. For me, it is an article of faith.
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