The Paradox of Voice

canstockphoto7524142Over the last few weeks, a couple of subjects have come up that I thought I might like to write about and then decided against it.  One is gun control and the other is the ban being lifted on women in combat. These are heady, complicated and complex subjects. I am a woman, a parent and a veteran of the U.S. Army.

Last week, I became quite disheartened when reading comments on articles on both subjects, which prompted an entirely different post. I tried a couple more times, unsuccessfully, to write about these subjects and discovered that holding a multitude of beliefs, some of which are quite contradictory, means that it is nearly impossible to write a convincing argument about anything.

I carried an M-16 as a soldier for four years. I knew how to disassemble, clean and reassemble it. I knew how to “lock and load”. I fired various other weapons over the years, as required for training. When I was 19, I thought that weapons were very cool. I was an average shot. I was left-handed, and the chamber guards provided did not prevent hot shell casings from rolling down the sleeve of my BDU shirt, leaving burn streaks down my arm. My aim started to become the least of my concerns.

I understand the appeal, the adrenaline rush of firing, the drive to train to expert levels, the sense of power felt, carrying this weapon of death. But I grew up. I thought about the kind of world in which I’d like to live. I realized that no amount of training or mechanical machine would ever prepare me for the moment I’d have to defend my life or the lives of my family. But that gun would always be there, this piece of hardware designed to take the life of another living creature. So I made a conscious choice to do without and despite comment boards, I don’t feel like I am a big liberal weenie because of it.

The lifting of the ban on women in combat didn’t make me do a little dance of joy last week. I worked in military intelligence as a Russian linguist. My unit was attached to an infantry division in Europe. We spent six months out of the year in the field and the other six doing important work, like picking up cigarette butts on base, working on our vehicles in the motor pool and doing dog and pony shows for high ranking officers. I served at a time when militarily, not much was happening. It was near the end of the Cold War. The year I finished my tour, the Berlin Wall came down.

Myself and the many women I served with, were already in combat positions, working close to what used to be the front line dividing us and the Soviets. That we were not classified as being in those positions was irrelevant. We just were. There are, and have been for years, thousands of women in combat positions. 146 women have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, even while a ban on them being in combat positions was in place.

All that being said, the arguments against it rile me because they’re so nonsensical. I can address a few commonly cited reasons. Physical abilities: Test. That’s all you need to do. A person is either qualified or they are not. Sexual Assaults and POW conditions for women: Stop assaulting your fellow soldiers. And I’m guessing being a POW is not a party for men or women. Unit Cohesiveness: Good leaders at every level determine this, gender does not. And my least favorite argument is concern about the lady parts. There are 15 million things that can go wrong with the human body in combat conditions, afflicting men and women equally. There is no vaginal predisposition for chronic infection, old white men.

I was proud of how hard I worked. I was proud that I trained, carried heavy equipment, knew my vehicle inside and out. I carried my own weight, didn’t ask for special treatment, didn’t have sexual orgies with my all male field team and didn’t have magical lady part infections.  There are, like any segment of the population, women I would not want to serve with, but there were an equal number of men who were unreliable, didn’t carry their own weight, complained and whined and wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. Being a jackass is an equal opportunity, military or not.

All that being said, this is the part that gets me stuck: War is horrible. The idea that it is inevitable is so embedded in our hearts and minds that we can’t imagine what real peace looks like. I don’t want men and women to die, killing each other relentlessly on the battlefield or from the sky. I don’t want to casually allow our Congress and President to send thousands off to war. I don’t want orphaned children or civilian casualties – on either side. If I should become a vocal advocate for any position – have I just become part of the machine?

It’s okay to still believe in an ideal world. It doesn’t make us fools or softies or lefties or commies or all the other names anonymous trolls like to leave in their shit-laden trail of mediocrity on comment boards. It makes us the defense against complacency and acceptance of violence. We are one of many voices of reason in a world that seems destined for self-destruction. In the face of a million options for killing and hate and violence and destruction, I choose peace – in my life, in my desire for others, in my hope for my child. If someone wants to stand there, empowered with their arsenal and call me a coward, so be it.

I would like to thank Bespectacledape for his post, The Weakness Stereotype. It inspired me to follow through on the thoughts that have been nagging at me this last week.

56 Comments on “The Paradox of Voice

    • I was feeling very challenged by these subjects, because I have been in the mindset of the opposite side. But that choice is our power and to still make that choice in the face of all the things that frighten us, well, it seems just the opposite of cowardice, doesn’t it?

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      • I think it’s always extremely courageous to take a stand for good, for what you know is right, in the face of bullying, belittling, name-calling, and making-wrong. It shows great character on your part, *especially* given your military background. Kudos, and respect.

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    • I agree with Alison. You just defined everything that Bloggers for Peace is about. ” It makes us the defense against complacency and acceptance of violence. We are one of many voices of reason in a world that seems destined for self-destruction. In the face of a million options for killing and hate and violence and destruction, I choose peace – in my life, in my desire for others, in my hope for my child.” We need to put this on a poster, a flag, a billboard, a television commercial, and broadcast it all over the world.
      <bow> Michelle, I have the utmost respect for you, your military service, your critical thinking, and your heart. Thank you for being an example of what peace can look like.</bow>
      I am tweeting this to @freshly_pressed. I ask anyone else who is on twitter to do the same.
      {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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      • Kozo, thanks for your kind words. Thanks for the Freshly Pressed support, too, although this post seems a little on the angry side (one of my more vulgar pieces!). I think the last paragraph would have been fine on its own, but unfortunately, I have to write my way through my thought process!

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        • That is what gives power to the piece. It is not just an everyday call for peace. It is an honest search for answers that takes both sides into consideration from an informed and unbiased point of view. Kudos, Michelle.

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  1. Wow! Great post. Trust me, you’re no coward, on or off the field.

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  2. I’m always surprised when friends with military backgrounds are against any gun control whatosever. Considering the huge amount of training soldiers get in the use of firearms, you’d think they’d be staunchly against having the average Joe (or Joanne) getting their hands on guns.

    Nice post, as usual.

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    • I think, too, no amount of training would prepare even someone versed in firearms for that moment when we are under attack. There are so many things that can go wrong or right in a second. I have friends all along the spectrum -some are staunch gun rights advocates and there are a lot like me, that said, no thanks.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  3. I looked at the figures for deaths by handgun violence, in the UK in a year it was 14 (I think that was in 2012, not sure) and in the US it was nearly 10 000. I thought this might be to difference in population, but even multiplied to the right proportion deaths in the UK remained at 80…
    It made me kind of glad to be living here! Of course some people carry guns but generally they’re pretty strict about who gets them with interviews and licenses and such…But then I’m quite strongly pro-gun control.
    As for the ban of women in combat positions, I was oblivious to that I’m ashamed to say. I thought that considering the number of female loss of life in Iraq in the US army there were women in combat positions? Clearly I had it all wrong. I think people are pretty unjustified, like you said, in making assumptions according to gender.
    Brilliant post. It’s interesting you have so much experience with both issues and could give such detailed opinions and ideas 🙂

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    • While I do believe that additional gun control measures need to be taken, I know most of the problem is in our culture of violence, strident divisiveness and isolating individualism. I love my country and feel so fortunate to have been born here, but one of the great things about this country was always its adaptability. We can change things for the better just as easily as for the worse. But, as ever, change always starts in that singular, individual choice to be the change or to go with the flow.
      Thanks for your thoughtful and informative comment!

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    • No need to thank me for my service. The Army I was in, was very different from the Army now. That made me even more hesitant to write about it. My service in the Army paid for college, allowed me to travel – it was hard work, but nothing like what the soldiers are dealing with today. I appreciate the sentiment though and your kind words!

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  4. Great post! It’s always difficult to write about divisive issues, but you did it very well. I am tired of not being able to have rational conversations about these two topics (and others) because the discussion soon deteriorates into name-calling and foaming at the mouth, and some reference to Hitler. (I’ve often wondered how one can be a Hitler and liberal – doesn’t make sense!) You make good points on each of these issues and I tend to agree with you. I am torn about women in combat; war is always Hell, and I know there are women who have served in combat and died. I suppose if we women want true equality, it means in all phases of life doesn’t it, including in the military?

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    • I’m torn about the issue of women in combat, too, but it has less to do with gender (I support equal opportunities) as it does with the idea of anyone in combat, which is the paradox of supporting the lift of the ban. Yay, equality. But oh, we’re still at war.

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  5. As a retired teacher, I have been dismayed at the thought of people armed in our school buildings, which has been one reaction to the Sandy Hook shootings. I am very upset that some local law enforcement officials in our small town seem to support this idea. Of all people they should know how highly trained you MUST be to be in a position to protect others with weapons. It’s not for amateurs or the “slightly trained”..
    This is a great post and everyone could get something from it, not matter what your opinions are on gun control.

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    • I think you used a key phrase “slightly trained”. As a retired teacher, you know what the funding level of education entails. You’re not getting a SEAL at the front door of your school.
      Numerous experts have pointed out the flawed thinking in armed people running about schools and specifically in reference to the Sandy Hook murders. The other thing is merely about the presence of weaponry anywhere. Maybe an armed guard might be able to prevent a statistically unlikely event at a school. Meanwhile, that weapon is available, in the presence of children, teenagers, disgruntled administrators, angry parents the entire time. That raises the odds significantly that someone will be shot. To me, it’s a very common sense thing – you don’t have to be an expert to see the weakness in the argument.

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  6. Beautifully written. You will get a very large response today.
    I don’t want to come off as being a smug Canadian but I believe the US culture is in deep trouble. Gun culture is at the root of this deterioration. I can’t help but compare our two nations; side by side with much of the same history yet so different because of your escalating gun violence. The facts speak for themselves.

    If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
    Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
    Baltimore’s rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
    Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1).

    I was also surprised to read that in the US military women are still not permitted in combat roles. Wow … get with the times. Women make up 12% of the total military force in Canada. In 1989 all combat roles became open to women in Canada with the exception of submarines. That lifted in 2001. Here is a link to the history of women in the Canadian armed forces.

    I agree completely with your ideas. Well said.

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    • Thanks for the very informative and thought-provoking comment! It’s hard not to look at our statistics and see that we have a tremendous problem in our country. Although I think as American culture bleeds over into other countries, smugness will not be able to rule the day. It’s unfortunately contagious.

      As I mentioned to an earlier commenter, we have a cultural aspects that, in combination, have created quite the mess. Individualism marked by isolation and extremely divisive political shouting matches, a highly profitable and influential weapons industry, violent entertainment media, the education and economic gaps – all ingredients for the recipe of gun violence we see today.

      It is a very complicated problem, but I get frustrated – just because something is complicated, it doesn’t mean we do nothing. Everybody is so worried about their own little corner of the market and the world, that nobody is looking out for the common good. So it’s a struggle to know where to start, but we must do something, even if it’s not perfect and even if it steps on toes.

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  7. I could give you a flattering compliment about this well written post. I could tell you that our military experiences (yours Army, mine Air Force) were similar (cigarette butt patrol included) and that our opinions about guns, war, women in combat, stupid stereotypes, love of country and desire for peace are in alignment. I could say that I could not have said this better myself, and all of that would be true.
    Here’s something else. Our son-in-law just returned from deployment in Afghanistan. I saw him this week for the first time since he left a year ago. He is changed. Somewhat in appearance, but more his countenance. Not broken and not just war weary either. Of course we asked lots of questions about what he’d missed most about home (the smell of clean laundry) and what the conditions were like where he was. I also asked what the Army was doing to help soldiers transition. I did not like the answer.
    Only a year ago he was enthusiastic about making the Army his career. He’d served almost 8 years already, but could not get promoted without combat service. So, he went. Now he’s back. And his answers confirmed what I believed already. We have not really made improvements to how veterans are treated. Sure, the general public claps when a group of soldiers walks through the airport and people thank them for their service. Not being spit at and called baby killers is a huge improvement. But the resources available to veterans and their families are still inadequate and certainly are not hassle free.
    Excellent post Michelle. I truly could not have said it better and I’m so grateful that you decided to write it.

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    • I ABSOLUTELY agree with you regarding the treatment of veterans. We are bringing home people who are disabled, unemployed, scarred, disturbed, damaged and instead of making sure they get the very real support that they need, we are leaving them to be homeless, un-medicated, out of work, out of step and out of time. This is not just a military problem – this is a social problem that needs to be addressed much more effectively. How will things be in 2014, by which time 68,000 troops will have returned home?

      Thanks for sharing about your son-in-law, Honie. This is the other side of military service that people often forget about and SO many troops have served since we invaded Iraq. It’s one thing to slap a magnetic ribbon on the back of your car. It’s another to look in the face of someone you love and see what war really does.

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  8. This is one of the best things I’ve read all week. And I’ve been re-reading my favorite book, so I hope the compliment lands on your heart! Thank you. – Bill

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      • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: feasting on it like a vampire, sucking out all the blood I can so I can liver forever. Ha! Shared your post with my wife in the car today and she said you do a very nice job of encapsulating a complex subject, with a voice of authority (she said it much better than me, here). I am glad to have met you in the ‘sphere and look forward to many more exchanges. Today, you did what I wanted to do but couldn’t quite manage: confront the gun control thing and the flanks of douche-bags, with grace. Bravo.

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        • I’m a little embarrassed to say that while Joyce is on my “should read” list, I have not yet done so. My go-to books are lightweight by comparison!

          Thanks for sharing my post with your wife. I had considered revising it several times. I am not confrontational by nature, but public discourse is getting pounded by special interest groups and lunatics from both sides. How can we ever make progress if we are all just shouting at each other?

          Anyways, thanks again for the kind words!

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    • Your timing couldn’t have been better – I was really doing some mental wrangling with these thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  9. Great post, and I’m glad you wrote it. I was hoping you would address the women/combat deal since asking you at school pick up time doesn’t allow for much in depth discussion.
    I am so weary of the gun control/school safety debate. Working in a school with a high percentage of republicans who despise our president makes it difficult to think about let alone discuss without getting so angry!

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    • Thanks, Shannon. I think we are all tired of the debates because they simply don’t move us forward. Everybody digs in their heels and we stay stuck. It becomes a pointless exercise of loud and louder and loudest.
      I’ve been hesitant to wade into controversial topics, because I don’t want to add to the yelling. And I know that I am a middle-of-the-road kind of person. I try to see both sides and I rarely see, when you do that, how anybody can say they are completely correct about anything. I stick to the basics. Killing bad. Peace good. You’d think it’d be a simple premise from which to work!

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  10. Thanks for your thoughtful, personal post. So much ranting going on, my own included. Since Sandy Hook, I’m done w/ the blindered anti-regulation crowd, and it’s hard to be polite.
    It’s nice to hear someone with personal experience and “middle-of-the-road” sentiments work through these issues. Good role modeling – thanks..

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    • I wonder, too, how to feel passionately about an idea and still be able to convey it respectfully. That’s a challenge. The other challenge is how those of us (a silent majority) who are not extremists, can find a voice and an audience in the current public climate. It’s a tough time to have a true dialogue.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. It’s appreciated!

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  11. I see nothing wrong with anything here, particularly not your feeling honored to have served and your awareness of how it’s made you a better person nor you trying to put it all in perspective within the current debate. And a lot of the current debate is really hot air, logical people know that. There’s no question women serve as well as men and I’m proud that you and women and PEOPLE like you have served our country. Need I say more? 🙂

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    • Logical people don’t get heard for the most part.
      Service in the military is another complex subject. Although I am glad to have served, I wish more emphasis and attention were brought to AmeriCorps and other civilian options for contributing to our country’s well being.
      I’m all for a 1-2 year national service civilian draft. Nobody would need to hightail it to Canada and it would be a great equalizer, if only for a moment in an individual’s life, to contribute to better infrastructure or fighting poverty in our country. Unfortunately, there’s no underlying, profitable volunteer industry to drive it, no lucrative, lobbying entity or contracts to influence and solidify its role in our society.

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      • I have strong feelings about service or “lack” of service or not having a draft in this country and what all that has done to our people, you know the regular guy on the street. And who’s in our volunteer military, meaning decisions are often made and loud opinions shouted by people who have no connection or skin in the game. I’ve never served but also am a pacificist for what it’s worth (and in the good sense of the word- not that I don’t think we shouldn’t defend ourselves). When we sacrifice people for others ambitions it makes me SICK.

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        • Well, as you can tell, I’ve become more of a pacifist in my life. I still like my combat in the form of taekwondo sparring and I enjoy a good speed bag punching session. Usually no one gets hurt – except for me.

          It certainly would change our willingness to go to war if everyone had something at stake. Maybe a draft would make us fiercer and more effective, I don’t know. What I do know is that Canada doesn’t want any more of us up there!

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  12. This is an excellent (and very amusing in places!) post. I can entirely relate to your experience of wanting to talk about something and then being put off by all the hideous trolling comments online. But I’m glad you talked about it anyway.

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    • Thanks – it’s a weird world we live in, where people can be hideous and anonymous simultaneously. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  13. You have stated all of this so very well. I love your succinct deferral of the illogical reasons for keeping women out of combat; the prevailing attitude is so supreme white male, and embarrassingly similar to the period when women weren’t allowed to vote. The issue of guns and war faces a longer road, I think. People want power: guns = power. Humans (at least in developed countries) are making progress toward realizing how horribly useless war is, but it has been a way of life since the beginning of time. Civilization is still in its infancy, and we are only beginning to learn the value of each human life. War is also, frankly, a business, and a lucrative one. If there’s money to be made at it, somebody’s going to keep it going. Sometimes I see, though, in the upcoming generation, so complete a disconnect for what drove previous generations (war, engaging in unrewarding work for a lifetime to get a few years of retirement before death, consumerism, etc.) that the light of hope gets a bit brighter.

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  14. You write: “The idea that [war] is inevitable is so embedded in our hearts and minds that we can’t imagine what real peace looks like.” — That’s what has struck me, also, about the discussions of women in combat roles. I’m hearing people just assume that we are in an endless war; nothing about the “if” of our wars, just the “how” and “where.” I guess this is good, in a way, since people are not forgetting Afghanistan; and perhaps it means that people understand that even in previous times of “peace,” the U.S. still had soldiers fighting (for example, in the 1920s in Nicaragua); but still, I am not hearing any hope or desire that a war might end and we can give peace a try (for a couple-three years maybe!). And now we have a “forever war” of drones, so again I guess it’s good that people understand that we have chosen indefinite war; but I wish we were choosing differently.

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    • I think part of the reason is that we are so removed from the war. Media coverage is nearly invisible (shameful). We’re not seeing coffins unloaded off planes (again shameful). It’s such a cliche, but I always think of that Lennon song “Imagine”. It takes real imagination to see a world without war.

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  15. Excellent post. When I read this week’s news about women in the military, I thought of your blog and wondered if you’d take up this topic. I agree with everyone else, this is very thoughtful, especially the last paragraph.

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting. I was certainly hesitant to write about these subjects, because I have incredibly mixed feelings. I’m a veteran with a Buddhist bent, which makes it a challenge to sort out opinions and ideas without sounding wishy-washy or noncommittal. Or worse, like I don’t care.

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  16. It’s good to hear from someone who has served about the issue of women in combat. I think a woman should be able to any job she is able to do. The gun issue so complex and the rhetoric is so heated and extreme. I find myself lodged in the middle ground where I would like to see reason win out over hyperbole. I would like to see some thoughtful debate and a consensus – I doubt that it is even possible.

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    • The gun issue is very complex. I’ve reached the point where there is little more to be said about it without straying into values differences and heated rhetoric myself. One of the reasons we can’t find middle ground is that there is a lot of money in the game. Politicians who care more about being elected than serving, lobbyists who care more about getting paid than making a positive difference and manufacturers who claim no responsibility for the products that leave their factories in order to keep the profit margin high. We the people are quite positively screwed in the mix.

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      • I totally agree – I wonder that is some advantage to be gained by creating an atmosphere of paranoia. Even as a gun owner I find this very uncomfortable.

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  17. Michelle, I would love to read more of your journey from where you were to where you are now. What a fascinating story it must be.

    As to wanting a reasonable discourse on guns, I’m all for it. I am also extremely opinionated on the subject ;). Sigh.

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    • Like most changes, it happened in such slow and small increments, it would be hard to tell without excruciatingly boring detail! Something I’ll be pondering, though…
      You’ve definitely jumped in on the gun debate. I have personal feelings about guns that are separate from what we should be talking about in terms of our culture of violence and the complex factors that create a fertile ground for individuals to do great harm.

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  18. Hey, Michelle. I actually found myself wanting you to continue your thoughts. Yes, these are complex ideas, and the consequences of acting on them (in any direction) are heavy. More people should be this conflicted and carry multiple perspectives in their brains.

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    • Good to hear from you! I think what we are talking about here is critical thinking, which seems to be missing from our current public debates. It takes time to teach and to learn how to see a problem from multiple viewpoints, before weighing one’s options. It makes decision making more difficult, but it should be difficult. It’s too easy to pick a side and repeat talking points – it requires little attention or listening or intelligence, all of which are desperately needed in problem solving.

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  19. “It’s okay to still believe in an ideal world.”

    I completely agree with having idealism as a goal, but I think it may not be wise to believe it is completely possible so long as humans remain humans. Otherwise I think you will be always disappointed.

    Would you choose peace if your home was invaded, or would you be willing to use what your military service taught you to defend your home? Is defending your country different? So long as evil continues to exist, I believe good people need to be willing to fight it.

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  20. Pingback: Blah-gging: In Search of the Joy | The Green Study

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