Tuesday, October 6, 2009

We All Pay a Price for Obedience

Today Peter Pollock of Rediscovering the Church is hosting a blog "carnival." No, not the kind with virtual ferris wheels and bumper cars and pink cotton candy on a stick but a carnival of words built around a single word: obedience. If you're a blogger and have something or anything to say about obedience, post your contribution today. Below is mine.

We All Pay a Price for Obedience

This morning's papers are filled with news and opinion about war advice to the President. The Washington Post's front page prominently features "Gates Wants Leaders' War Advice Kept Private" (never mind that our defense secretary said he's not trying to muzzle anyone) and, inside, columnist Michael O'Hanlon writes about "A General Within Bounds" while his colleague Eugene Robinson answers with "Out of Line on Afghanistan". All three pieces concern Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who lately hasn't exactly been shy about making known his opinions about how to "win" America's war in a country called a "graveyard of empires." (That's an interesting juxtaposition: the words "win" and "graveyard".)

Obedience was the first word that came to mind while reading the article and opinion pieces.

Obedience and toe the line. Or pay the price. And pay the price.

I've never been good about conforming to anything that my heart and mind told me was wrong. I was (secretly) rooting for McChrystal these past few days. After all, after the "shock and awe" of the Bush Administration, I thought it refreshing to hear real words instead of euphemisms. In contrast to Donald Rumsfeld, who could talk only of making and leaving a "light footprint," McChrystal seemed to know how to use the word "short-sighted" —and in a way that could get everyone's attention.

I understand both sides, and I'm not so naive as to think it's possible to run a country or the military without some degree of discipline and some form of obedience. It's just that the obedience that I have in mind is to something higher than the notions at play in today's articles.

Nor do I believe that McChrystal hasn't already paid or won't pay a price.

We all pay a price when we keep quiet. Or speak up.

We all pay a price when we ignore the parent we see slapping or cursing out a child. Or allow a high school student to tell a teacher where she can go. Or permit harassment of a human being in a South African airport because his skin color didn't match the color of the skin of his haranguers.

We all pay a price when raising an arm in salute becomes easier than stopping a train to Auschwitz. Or a plane to Guantanamo.

We all pay a price when we who are women allow ourselves to be paid a dollar less than a man in the same job with the same responsibilities. Or take a beating from the person living with us because talking about it will just bring on more of the same. Or accept being denied schooling because "our place" is "at home". Or fear being seen in public if we're not bound and burka'd on another's say so.

We all pay a price when we pretend the beatings in the streets of Tehran are not our concern. Or turn the other cheek to the marks on the back of a prisoner detained years without recourse to lawyers because it's for "our peace and security".

We all pay a price when we don't turn out of office elected officials who believe it their right to grease their palms, have their way with office staff, or use the public's money to jet to places we can never hope to see.

We all pay a price when we let appearances count for more than honesty, justice, and truth. Or the difference between right and wrong.

How much does it hurt, after all, to be obedient and quiet? Or to speak up?

The price doesn't have to be seen to exist.


Kelly Langner Sauer said...

a word that bears redeeming for me... I've seen it so misused...

R. Holloway said...

We also pay a price when we read your post and disregard what you have said... Thank you for your thoughts...

Glynn said...

We need to know ahead of time that there is always a price to pay. Look at what happened to the prophets -- stones, chased, persecuted, sawn in half. Look at what happened to Stephen for telling the truth -- stoned to death. And, ultimately, look at what happened to Christ.

Billy Coffey said...

This truly moved me in so many ways. I agree with every single word, but I've not been able to express them as eloquently as you have.

Thank you for this, Maureen.

Maureen said...

I'm touched by all the comments, and grateful that you took the time to consider my words.

Peter P said...


That's a big price we're paying... I wish people would remind us to look at it like that more often!

Thank you for joining the carnival and for such a moving post.

Helen said...

Good points. It matters whom we are obeying.