Just yesterday, I had two experiences that made me wonder about myself. Even at the age of 80, I’m still questioning how I should present myself in this world that by all appearances is rushing headlong into terminal disaster? Am I being too outspoken? Should I temper what I say about politics and religion?
For me, those are constant questions. They arise not only in family conversations, but more publicly – e.g., in the context of a men’s group I’m part of in our new hometown, Westport Connecticut. My self-interrogations surface as well in the church that Peggy and are aspiring to enter. It’s the Talmadge Hill Community Church located in nearby Darien. In all three instances – family, the men’s group, and in church – I find myself wondering about transgressing the boundaries of polite discourse.
Today, let me first of all tell you about what happened yesterday with the men’s group. In a subsequent posting, I’ll share my questionable behavior in church – and then in my family.
The Y’s Men
In Westport, I’m a member of The Y’s Men. It’s a group of about 200 retired men, mostly Jewish and with backgrounds in international business, law, local government, and other administrative posts. The organization gets its cleverly ambiguous name from some distant association with the YMCA, which I can’t recall.
In any case, the Y’s Men meet every week and sponsor a myriad of activities that include (among other items) hiking, golf, sailing, a book club, and (before Covid) theater in New York City. I’m enjoying all of that. The Y’s Men are typically very bright and firm I their opinions.
That firmness takes center stage every other week, when a gathering of about 50 of us meet to discuss world issues. There, as we talk about matters such as China, 5G, the Middle East, and the Great Global Reset. In those contexts, the Y’s Men reveal themselves as basically patriotic, respectful of the military, and as “Americans” who understand their country as a splendid model honoring human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
I, of course, share none of those characteristics. Informed by social analysis reflected in liberation theology, my own tendencies have me looking at international affairs from the viewpoint of the world’s majority who are poor and under the jackboot of western imperialism led by the United States of America. As a result, I often find myself at odds with my fellow discussants.
U.S. Policy in the Middle East
This week was no exception. The announced topic is “Recalibrating US Policy with respect to Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.” As usual, the conversation reflected the official position of the United States, viz. that “our” interests in recalibration are democracy and the protection of Israel from unreasonably hostile undemocratic forces represented principally by Iran, Islam, the Taliban, and Islamic terrorists.
For me, that position overlooked the provocative hostility of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia towards Iran which is a major power in the area and whose interpretation of Islam has good reason for being defensively hostile towards foreign control of the Middle East. Consider the following:
- Between 2010 and 2012, the intelligence agency (Mossad) of U.S. client Israel, assassinated four of Iran’s top nuclear scientists.
- On January 3rd of 2020, the Trump administration itself assassinated Iran’s revered general, Qassim Soleimani, a national hero.
- On November 11th, 2020, the Mossad also assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, yet another of the country’s leading nuclear scientists.
- On May 8th, 2018, President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the internationally supported Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by which Iran had renounced alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons. By all accounts, Iran had not violated the agreement.
- Instead, the United States intensified economic sanctions on the country which increased Iran’s poverty rate by 11%.
- The strengthening of sanctions persisted even during the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Despite such provocations, Iran has taken virtually no retaliatory measures either against Israel or the United States.
In the light of these facts, here’s what said at this week’s meeting:
What we’re calling a “reset” in the Middle East is really a recommitment to traditional U.S. anti-democratic policy there. It has us supporting not democracy, but client kings and potentates throughout the region particularly in Saudi Arabia as well as an apartheid regime in Israel. U.S. enemies here are Islamic nations who understand their religion as an affirmation of independence from outside control – independence from western imperialism and neo-colonialism. (For their part, the United States and its puppets call Islamic striving for independence “terrorism.”) Of course, the point of that imperial control is what it’s always been, viz. transfer of resources. And in the middle east, the resource in question is oil. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change as long as our economy remains petroleum dependent.
My intervention was largely ignored. So, using other words, I reiterated the sentiment about three times more.
And that’s my point of self-questioning here. Am I saying too much? Are my positions too radical? If so, are my efforts counterproductive in that they turn people against the very viewpoint I’m trying to share (that of the world’s poor, imperialized and silenced). Should I just shut up and listen?
Family members often caution me in the direction of such judicious silence.
Truthfully however, I find such restraint a species of self-betrayal. My role models – the people I find most admirable in the world – never bit their tongues in similar circumstances and even on the world stage. Their list is long and includes Gandhi, King, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Dorothy Day, William Barber II, Liz Theoharis, Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Jeremiah Wright, Chris Hedges, the Berrigan brothers, and the liberation theologians I’ve spent more than 50 years studying.
Most of all, the list of such truth-tellers is headed by the great prophets of the Bible and by the one who has grasped and held my attention my entire life. I’m talking about Jesus the Christ.
I’ll explore that dimension of my outspokenness and self-doubt in my next posting.
11 thoughts on “At 80, Still Wondering Who I Am”
Any group worth its salt should be open to opposing viewpoints. If not they are effectively echo chambers which we see so often on social media.
No one learns a damn thing.
To me tone is tantamount. In my LGBTQAI work I learned that you are more persuasive if tone is assertive but not strident or obnoxious.
I don’t know you Mike but I would speak your truth.
Maybe offering an explanation to the group on where the seed of your thinking was planted and blossomed would help. Starting with an explanation of liberation theology?! Many may have no clue what that even means.
Lead with love and kindness and you can’t go wrong!
PS BTW, your Columban background is evident and that’s a good thing!
Your words are wise, Ann. Tone is all important. Truth is one thing, stridency another. Too often (especially in conversation with family members) I forget that. Thanks for the reminder.
Thanks for this. I can so identify with what you describe even if I enjoy half your courage and even less of your clarity to speak on these issues.
I offer no help.
I don’t belong to any such groups but in social gatherings I am beginning to ’shut up’ because I feel I do more harm than good. Most times I get the impression that people know what to expect from me by now. Columbans and others often surprise me by telling me, with a smile, that they see me on Facebook.
At a few years younger than you, I am still working on it, so no help.
I would like YOU to know that YOU are a big help to ME. You do give me hope and I do admire your courage and clarity. For that reason I would hate if you ’shut up.’
My best wishes,
Brian Brian Smyth
Maybe International Ireland
27 Fitzwilliam Square
T: +353 868 177 114
E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: http://www.maybe.ie
Brian, your words are always so kind and supportive. The biggest problem for me is in my family. There, I get too easily triggered by the mere Democratic liberalism that reigns. I need to bit my tongue and just smile. All the rest is counterproductive in terms of important relationships.
Mike, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The only faults I find with your latest essay are three tiny typos — otherwise right on? Felix
Typos! I read these things over and over, and yet those errors persist. Mea culpa.
Mike, I’m 82 1/2 and find myself discerning in a similar fashion. I also am learning a lot from Pope Francis. His trip to Iraq was miraculous for me. I find him to be a straight shooter and discernment is definitely part of his Jesuit identity. I’m not one who focuses on “the more I want from him” but rather on “the good he is doing”. I have had a few prophetic moments in public, but I don’t move in the same circles you do. I do enjoy your posts.
Pope Francis is wonderful. His growth over the years is inspiring. He’s the best pope since John XXIII.
A man after my own heart. I’m now 82. Glad to know you align your thoughts with those of Chris Hedges, one of the few U.S. outspoken critics of America the neo-imperial superpower.
I agree, Cyril. Hedges is such a good model of holy outrage and truth-telling.