I was in a fight one day with another boy on the grassy ground just outside our house. My mother came out and was about to stop me fighting. My father was there and he stopped my mother from intervening. ‘Don’t stop him, Eileen,’ he said, ‘or you might break his spirit.’ My mother told me this story years later.
My father had been a soldier and fought in the war. He was a peaceable man. When it came to children he was glad to leave everything to my mother, regarding her as the expert in such things. But on this occasion, no. Let him fight. Let him feel the force of his anger. Let him feel his strength in contest against another boy. If you intervene you may well rob him of his natural ability for self-defence. He might recoil from contests of strength and become timid in spirit. My father showed great wisdom there.
The few fights I had as a boy ended with honours even, which is a good way for fights to finish. Contestants come to realise that peace has to break out at some point, and we have to live in the same schoolyard, and we have to be able to get by with one another, or even get on with one another. We learn that fighting solves nothing, but we also learn to know our own ability to stand up for ourselves.
Fights should end with honours even. It does no good to pummel one side into the ground. They will either lose their spirit and die, or they will find a way to get back at you sooner or later. ‘Honours even’ is the great way to end all conflicts.
The causes of the conflict still need to be addressed and that requires other skills, conversational skills and diplomatic skills. If one side is a winner and the other a loser, then issues are not resolved. Making peace is different from concluding wars.
In the Gospel for tomorrow, Tuesday 3rd Week of Lent, Jesus tells a parable about the unforgiving servant, whose master forgave him his debts, while the servant then went out and refused to forgive a fellow servant. In the field of international relationships, all nations have committed offences. All stand in need of forgiveness. It does not do to simply point to the offences done by Russia, although they are grave. It does not do to play the saint when we too have seriously offended against others.
What matters is our ability to end the fighting and to begin the making of peace.
21 March 2022