Barack's speech in Cairo was magnificent in many ways, but yesterday's election upset in Lebanon, and next week's possible ousting of Ahmadinejad are perfect examples of how a direct, honest, authentic, and humble presentation can work so much more effectively than the aggressive, chest-thumping self-righteousness the world was subjected during the last administration. Roatti's diary last night discusses the difference between conservative and progressive thinking - that they fixate on means, and we actually look at the bigger picture and see the ends.
Gandhi of course reminds us that the means should be the ends-in-embryo, and I'd like to bring the Kos-o-sphere up to speed on a great tactical how-to manual for so much of what we want to accomplish politically - the martial art of Aikido, often known as "the Way of Peace"
more after the break.
Part the First - my bona fides:
I'm not even close to being very accomplished at Aikido compared to some of the people I train with, but after 25 years and a yon-dan, I'm starting to get a reasonable handle on it. More important, however, is that I've been teaching a class called "Aikido and Ethics" for the last several years at Williams College. This last year's class was specifically focused on politics, and how the tactical approach of aikido can help develop more effective policy. I'm also a board member of Aiki-Extensions, a nonprofit that works to bring the wisdom of aikido off the mat and into the wider world.
Part the Second - a brief intro to what Aikido actually is:
Aikido is a Japanese martial tradition that combines the samurai arts of sword and grappling with the philosophical desire to manifest harmony in the face of conflict. As such, it addresses situations of conflict that manifest themselves physically, but also offers insight into how to prevent or redirect the energies-social, political, or psychological-that might otherwise become conflict in one or another aspect of our lives.
What this looks like, if you stop by a dojo, is lots of people attacking someone and getting tossed thru the air, landing gently, and getting up and attacking again until it's their turn to be throwing people around. An incident on the street, were it to happen, would resemble someone (the person doing the aikido) dancing with someone (the attacker) who didn't know they wanted to dance with them.
There are no kicks and no punches within Aikido itself, though the person playing the role of the attacker may well use both, as well as weapon strikes. Instead, there is an emphasis on blending with a partner's attack and the use of techniques to lead that attack safely to a conclusion that is good for everyone. This desire to protect the attacker is, as far as I can tell, unique to aikido, but embodies an important truth: fighting works better when you don't hurt them - as that way they don't have anything to attack you for again - you have the chance to actually resolve the conflict rather than just winning the fight.
Some styles are "harder" than others, but generally anything called "aikido" is about getting out of the way of an attack, redirecting the attacker's energy, taking their balance, and then throwing them safely into a roll or taking them down into a pin. If you want to see it for yourself - youtube has tons of video clips (I'd steer clear of "Real Aikido", but otherwise most of them are fine. Here's one from my teacher's teacher).
A bit more philosophically, every technique we study in Aikido involves practicing the art of creating a change in the situation - a situation where you are being attacked is changed to a situation of containment - a pin - or to one of escape - they are taking a roll, and you have time to get away safely.
Creating this change requires four things from us
1] We must maintain our own balance while taking theirs
2] We must react fearlessly
3] We must enter into the very center of the conflict
4] We must understand our opponent's intentions in order to achieve resolution
When we follow these four steps for creating change, we don't just change the situation, we change our opponents.
They began the interaction wanting to attack us - believing us to be their enemy. By demonstrating our desire to understand them and by manifesting enough concern for them to make sure they don't get hurt - we change their mind, we change their anger, and we change their role.
They wanted to hurt us, and we wanted to dance. And if our Aikido is good enough, and our ability to dance is better than their ability to hurt us, they don’t want to hurt us anymore. They stop being our opponent. They start being our partner.
Part the Third: What this has to do with Obama
What Obama's been doing thru much of his campaign can be described as "political aikido" - Domestically, we have seen that he is the first national leader to transcend the typical duality of politics. He listens so authentically, especially to his supposed opponents, that he is able to make them realize that there are not two opposing forces that have to defeat each other, but there are many of us here together, with too many challenges before us to waste time or energy on traditional partisanship.
One particular shining moment was in Grant Park the night he (we) won the election. He took a moment to remind that very partisan (and insanely happy) crowd that McCain was not the enemy. By specifically mentioning that Lincoln was a Republican, Obama directed everyone's attention to how his election was the culmination of a dream Lincoln had started when he signed the Emancipation Declaration, and thus that we have all, Democrats AND Republicans, been in this together for almost 150 years.
His speech in Cairo exhibited all the aikido hallmarks -
1] We must maintain our own balance while taking theirs - Obama was poised and elegant while completely undercutting the case for violence and extremism - using the Koran to do it.
2] We must react fearlessly - 6 months ago journalists were throwing shoes at the US President, Now we've got a guy willing to talk to the Iranians, and clearly signaling that Hamas might have a role in a unity government we would work with in Palestine. He even had the courage to admit the US involvement in the 1953 overthrow of democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq
3] We must enter into the very center of the conflict - He called additional settlement activity illegitimate, and used the word "Palestine", and did this in the capital of the largest Arab country.
4] We must understand our opponent's intentions in order to achieve resolution - He quoted the Koran, the Talmud, and the Bible. He spoke phrases in Arabic. He did not lecture, but left himself open to an ongoing conversation. He actually LISTENS to experts instead of PNAC dogmatists - Shinseki instead of Wolfowitz, for instance. Neocons tend to impose their theories on their world view, whereas Barack doesn't carry preconceptions but actually finds out what is really going on.
Part the Fourth - what this has to do with Kossacks
This is not a "go out and do what I do" diary. While I'm a big fan of Aikido training - you already have a pretty full life and its not my job to tell you what to do with your already-scarce free time (if you ARE interested, however, look for Aikido in your area here)
I am, however, genuinely recommending that you start to frame the conflicts in your life, or in your favorite progressive cause, with Aikido in mind. Ask yourself these questions, for instance:
1] Who is my opponent?
2] What are they really after?
3] What are they scared of?
4] Where are they weakest? Where are they strongest? How can I "take their balance"?
5] What do we have in common?
6] How can I protect them and still get what I need out of this?
Actually - don't just ask yourself - pose these questions on your own blog or in your own diary here on DailyKos and read the comments - as a group we are vastly more intelligent and accomplished than any of us are as individuals.
I look forward to your thoughts.