“Be ye therfore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”



I blog in peace on this beautiful Monday morning. I have previously written about the kind of individuals we look to train up as mediators and peacemakers. I have written that we look for the sharpest of minds and the softest of hearts.

In searching out literature supporting non-violent methods of resisting evil, I was delighted to find resonance with this thinking in some of the work of Luther-King Jr. In a sermon “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”, he quotes scripture “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves, Matt 10:16”

A French philosopher said “no (hu)man is strong unless (s)he bears within his or her character antithesis strongly marked” Luther-King Jr says that the strong (hu)man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites. Not ordinarily do (hu)mans achieve this balance of opposites. He says that the idealists are not usually realistic, and the realists are not usually idealistic. The militant are not generally passive, nor the passive militant. Seldom are the humble self-assertive or the self-assertive humble. But, he says, life is at its best a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.

Philosopher Hegel says that truth is found neither in the thesis or the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.

Christ recognized the need for blending opposites. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” and “Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves”. Difficult to imagine simultaneously having the characteristics of a serpent and a dove. No?

In order to be agents for change in this world, in communities, in organizations, in families and in the lives of individuals, we are to combine a tough mind with a tender heart.

Luther-King Jr goes on to list some characteristics of a tough mind: incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, sharp and penetrating breaking through the crusts of legends and myths and sifting true from false. The tough minded-individual is astute and discerning with a strong austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.

He goes on to say that rarely do we find individuals who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. This prevalent tendancy toward soft-mindedness is found in our sometimes unbelievable gullibility. A few examples are advertising: advertisers capaitalize on the soft-mindedness of individuals with skilful and effective slogans. Don’t believe this? Consider for a second how much take-out you have had in the last month. The tendency of readers to accept the printed word of the press as the final truth. We tend not to question enough. Just take a look at the extent to which society has allowed for the psychotropic drugging of children.

Softminded individuals, he says are prone to embrace all kinds of superstitions. Their minds are constantly invaded by irrational fears ranging from Friday the thirteenth to the fear of black cats crossing their paths.

The softminded individual fears change. We do not need to look far to detect the dangers of softmindedness. Dictators capitalizing on softmindedness have led humans to acts of barbarity and terror of unthinkable proportions. Hitler himself said in Mein Kampf  “I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few”

Softmindedness is one of the basic causes of race prejudice, which has as its basis groundless fears, suspicions and misunderstandings. Softminded individuals do not recognize that it is rationally unsound and sociologically untenable to use the tragic effects of segregation as an argument for its continuation.

There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths and downright ignorance. Luther-King Jr says that a nation that continues to produce softminded individuals purchases its own spiritual death on an instalment plan.

Softmindness allows us to adjust to oppression and acquiesce and resign ourselves to injustice. We must learn that to passively accept any unjust system is to co-operate with that system and thereby become a participant in its evil.

But we do not stop with cultivating a tough mind. Toughmindedness without a tender heart is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and gentle heat of summer. There is nothing more tragic than seeing an individual who has risen to the disciplined heights of toughmindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness.

The hardhearted person never truly loves. He or she is too cold to feel affection for another and too self-centred to share another’s joy and sorrow. No outpouring of love links him or her with the mainland of humanity.

There are hardhearted and bitter persons amongst us who would combat the opponent with physical violence and corroding hatred. Violence by creating more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace. A voice echoing through the corridors of time says to every intemperate Peter “Put up thy sword”. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that fail to follow this command: “Put up thy sword”.

A third way is open to us: non-violent resistence of evil that combines toughmindedness and tenderheartedness and avoids the complacency of do-nothingness of the softminded and the violence and bitterness of the hardhearted.

You may be thinking “Yoh! Sheena this stuff may apply to stratospheric collision between light and dark, international conflict and war. This stuff bears no application to me is a dispute resolution practitioner or in my own inter-personal conflict.”

To which I must respond thus: This has everything to do with everything. And it has to do with all of us. Softmindeness and hardheartedness in our own lives, always ultimately ends up in violence. As you know when I talk about violence I mean that anything that violates is violent. Violence starts with violent thinking, progressing through violent speaking and ending up in violent deeds.

Our work in non-violent communication as a basis for conflict resolution is taking shape and it is taking root. It has become an integral part of our training of Dispute Resolution Practitioners, Mediators and Arbitrators. And it has become an integral part of how we empower others to on conflict resolution in their own lives.

Have a beautiful Monday.

Until next week, peace.