Opposites attract. We are all familiar with the phrase. Sometimes the chasm between opposing things can seem so large as to be unfathomable. There are other times when the microscopic filament that is the line between opposites is so small that we are able to cross it multiple times without even thinking or even doing so deliberately.
(Photo taken by Ronald Andrew "Andy" Hoskinson. Visit his website at http://www.hoskinson.net/gulfwar/)
This morning I was listening to an interview with Bruce Feiler on my local NPR station. Bruce Feiler (don't worry, I had no clue who he was before this morning, either) is the host of the PBS series "Walking the Bible" and has written books chronicling his travels through the Middle East while attempting to locate many of the critical places written about in the bible. While I don't consider myself a "believer" of the Christian God (or any other single entity, for that matter), I found the dialogue captivating. At one point, Mr. Feiler was describing the role of military chaplains as masters of interfaith dialogue. He brought up the point that, despite the aggressive, conservative stereotype of the American armed forces, in some social sense, they have been pioneers. The military was integrated racially long before the rest of American society was out of necessity, and they are also necessarily respectful of varying religions, perhaps more so than our culture at large.
I found it fascinating that when we must, for practical purposes, work together and find ways to live in harmony with opposing viewpoints, we tend to do so much more readily. Perhaps it is easier to put aside our differences when our overarching goals are the same. Maybe it is that we are all respectful of the same authority and are unwilling to question it when we are commanded to collaborate. I know that when I do not, as a parent, make my rules crystal clear, my children feel more compelled to challenge them and use every inch of wiggle room they've been allowed. When I lay down the law in no uncertain terms, they may struggle initially, but then they relax and move forward within their narrower boundaries.
It is tragic that so many of our citizens with disparate beliefs are dying in a country where individuals with opposing religious viewpoints are intent on perpetuating the violence against their enemies. I wonder how prevalent religious arguments are among American troops in Iraq, or whether they have accepted their job without reservation and are content to put aside their own differences in order to achieve the goals they have been given. In a society where so much verbal emphasis is placed on acceptance of others and living together in harmony in our "melting pot", I find it refreshing to know that, at least in our Armed Forces, that is put into practice without hesitation. The chaplains are educated with respect to many different religious practices and are encouraged to foster interfaith discussion. They carry with them supplies to minister to injured and dying soldiers who might be Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or otherwise. How do we capitalize on this example of peaceful co-existence in our much less dramatic lives here at home? These soldiers are facing injury, hatred, death, lack of comfort and family support, and other unknown terrors, yet they somehow manage to band together to do their jobs. How can we, as a society with every luxury available to us, adopt their willingness to move forward and focus on working collaboratively to make every life a better one and stop violence based on our differences?