My youngest started his senior year last week. He’s taking a few college classes and his final few high school classes. As I reflect on my final time graduating from high school (when he graduates, I will have graduated 4 times total), I remember all the back-to-school shoppings, disagreements over uniforms and the bags upon bags of well-ordered supplies for the individual teachers’ classrooms. I will NOT miss the ‘midnight runs’ to Walmart in search of the ever elusive items on the supply lists.
As a microcosm for the world, school serves as a great analogy. Sadly, enough of us don’t learn the lessons that recess and lunch time should teach us. We focus on academics–which are important (VERY important, if my kids are reading this post). But can we all agree that navigating the awkward and painful social setting of school can make or break us as adults? I remember schoolyard posturing: A couple of people (usually guys, but the girls could get into the cat fights too) would disagree about something–usually territory which included girlfriends/boyfriends, sports team positions, clothes, opinions, sports equipment, hairstyles. Really, anything except academics. The disagreement would escalate into a heated argument where said people would amass their ‘armies’ (everyone at the school could pick a side and if you didn’t, one was picked for you) by overblowing the offense, then they would puff out their chests like a rooster and start the trash talk which usually ended with, “I’m going to mess you up.” I actually never saw a real-life fist fight. I know they happened because I did see the black eyes and the bruised knuckles. Many times, it all ended with the trash talk.
Not much has changed in our world and it seems that these schoolyard tussles are universal to all cultures. As I watch our country on the cusp of another war, a war many political pundits say could become a WWIII, I wonder what lessons we didn’t learn in school? How do we avoid war when grown-up bullies have so many more dangerous weapons at their disposal than fists, knives and even guns? When a leader like Assad doesn’t care about what happens to his own people, callously uses chemical weapons on a school and arrogantly defies the Geneva Convention, how do we stop him without stooping to his level? Why has it taken 2 years for the world to do more than pontificate and threaten Syria with action?
As a parent, I know I learned to use my children’s ‘currency’ to shape their behavior and help them learn civility. What is Assad’s currency? Power? Ego? How do we make bullies back down on the schoolyard? We call their bluff, we don’t engage in their antics or we fight and overpower them. I have to ask again: How do we stop him without stooping to his level? Because, ultimately, this question separates us from terrorist inhumanity.
I wish I had sane answers. Hindsight is 20/20 and if the world had executed a plan before now, perhaps we would not face war. Perhaps if we had learned our lessons from the Hitlers, Stalins, bin Ladens or Gadhafis, we would have acted sooner and more diplomatic solutions may have worked–or at least lessened the severity of the situation we now face. But, we didn’t execute a plan and haven’t learned our lessons and now Assad has crossed a line that the world should not ignore. He has bullied his people and will soon bully the world. We know he will not act reasonably.