My Psalm 59
Who is our Enemy?
While some of the last month’s posts were decidedly political, addressing recent events worldwide, I truly am not taking sides nor do I think there is one definitive side to take. It is a fact that Jesus never claimed to be God, Buddha did not want his followers to worship him as a God, nor did any other great philosophers claim to have all the answers. In fact, the most revered people throughout time have been those who professed ignorance rather than brilliance. What they have in common is a calling for us to be kind to one another, to be respectful of one another, to love one another… in all things.
That then begs the question: Who is our enemy? Who do we really, ultimately fear and why do so many innocent victims have to become casualties in our conflicts with “this enemy”? According to Sir Thomas Browne in his “Religio Medici”, “Every man is his greatest enemy and, as it were, his own executioner.
Marcus Tullius Cicero is famous for saying: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”
Let’s forget about nations versus nations or even the upcoming battles between football teams. What if Sir Thomas Browne, an English physician, physicist, philosopher, and author in the seventeenth century was correct? Sir Browne himself is a testament to a life of possibilities. Born at a time when Bacon was publishing and Shakespeare was writing, Thomas Browne became a man of many talents and interests. Through his many writings, he is responsible for introducing such words as hallucination and suicide into the English language. And, his life also bespeaks of the humanness of life and how even great and knighted men occasionally stumble. One of his words, eleemosynary, has yet to catch on in everyday language.
The ancient Greeks believed that man fell into one of four temperamental or personality types: choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic. The choleric personality is that person who exudes their passion. They are go-getters, dynamic, and forceful but those same qualities can sometimes be seen as bossy, and overriding. The phlegmatic personality presents as calm, easy going, and witty but those same traits can be interpreted as lazy, uncaring, lacing motivation or goals. The sanguine personality is the extrovert, the talker, the bundle of energy. They are great at parties but often act only on feelings and forget their objectives. Within their conversation will be complaints and while they are act on their feelings, those feelings are usually fickle. The melancholy type is the thinker in the group. This temperament is caring, analytical, and creative. However, they can over-think an issue, be moody, and intolerant of those without their perfectionist approach to things.
Mid twentieth century personality tests accounted for sixteen personality types but now psychology has settled on five – the extravert, the neurotic, the conscientious, the agreeable, and the open person. Previously identified traits are seen as companion characteristics of one type. For example, the talker who is assertive is manifesting an extrovert personality. Of greatest benefit has been the realization that all these factors are present in everyone in varying degrees. Everyone has some element of neuroticism just as everyone has some degree of being agreeable. In his personal construct theory, George Kelly maintained that each person sees the world according to where we score with each dimension of the personality types. An apprehensive person would not be happy looking at a picture of precariously balanced rocks, for example. How we respond to such concerns determines our agreeable and/or open traits.
Let’s rewrite Cicero’s musings and make them more personal. “One can survive his/her own foolishness and even their ambitions. But we cannot survive our own treasonous or negative thoughts. The hurt from a stranger or even a friend or family is far less formidable because it is an overt action. Our own thoughts inhabit our very souls and are never quiet. Because it is our own voice, we trust it to be true, no matter how unfounded it is. The negative self-esteem will construct will not be productive. It will eventually rot the soul and undermine the structure of the soul. Negative expectations infect the spirit and are a plague to the essence of our very lives.”
Statistics show that optimistic people live an average of two to four years longer than pessimistic people. However, life is not an either-or proposition. Truly successful people learn to balance the two. In a recent article by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., she explains that we are not locked into one or the other. “Fortunately for pessimists and realists, these patterns of thinking can be learned to a degree (though we tend to be mostly predisposed to our patterns of thinking.) Using a practice called ‘cognitive restructuring,’ you can help yourself and others become more optimistic by consciously challenging negative, self-limiting thinking and replacing it with more optimistic thought patterns.”
The enemy outside only gets in if we let him or her and why on earth would we do that? After all, the word literally means “not a friend”. The real danger is the enemy within and we have the power to change that. Once we change ourselves, we can change the world. That is neither being autocratic nor seeking power. It is simply recognizing that we can make a difference for ourselves, our community, and our world. We can make a difference … and should.
My Psalm 59
Lord, we need help.
The prowling dogs are howling*
And they are getting louder and louder.
People have empty bowls, empty hearts.
We can do it, Lord
But we need You.
Help us, Great Spirit.
Breathe your peace and power on us.
Help us make the world better
And defeat the negative forces.
Strengthen us, Lord.
Let our praises drown out the bad voices.
Hear us as we sing to you, O Father.