I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word “fight.” We fight for a cause. We fight for a marriage. We fight against darkness, or as some religions call it, “the enemy.”
The angry cousin of fighting, of course, is “attack.” Our way of life is under attack. Our rights are under attack. Our freedoms are under attack. Our relationships are under attack. Love itself is under attack. We are fighting a culture war.
We are warriors fighting the good fight. It is a noble battle. Good versus evil. Right against wrong. As the familiar high school sports cheer goes, “Stand up. Sit down. Fight! Fight! Fight!”
So many war metaphors.
Why don’t we have any peace metaphors?
Our culture glorifies courage in battle. And truly, those who stand boldly in the face of certain death are undoubtedly courageous. But what if it is also courageous, also wise, also challenging to explore peace? What if true courage is achieved not only in battle, but also in the long, hard slog of peaceful introspection?
The journey towards peace can be just as terrifying, and far more difficult. Why? Because true peace can only be found on the other side of reconciliation with our own shame, pain, and dysfunction. This is true in conflict within your close relationships, your business or organization, your community, or your culture.
In truth, “fighting the good fight” is sometimes easier than seeking peace through love. Perhaps the peacemaker is just as courageous as the warrior.
Peace starts with you
This feels like a commentary on culture and broader society. But a peaceful culture – or a warring culture – begins within each individual, extends into one-on-one relationships, and eventually filters into enough hearts that it becomes culture.
War is currently the basis of every major cultural institution. Everything is a fight. We fight for body autonomy (whether it be vaccinations or a woman’s womb). We fight cancer. We fight a war on drugs. We fight for a raise at work. We fight to keep families together. We fight for the right to paaaar-tay.
Applied to real-life
Redefining Love involves all our relationships, not just romance. But because romantic relationships are almost universally relatable, it’s a convenient metaphor for the warrior mindset that pervades our culture.
Anyone who has ever had a complex romantic relationship knows that sometimes you feel you have to fight just to breathe. Maybe because the relationship is toxic and controlling. Or maybe because the love you feel is so intense it makes your head spin.
At midlife, I have passed the stage where all my friends are getting married, and have entered the stage where marriages are being tested by real-life. Sometimes they end. Sometimes they grow stronger.
But always there’s that word – fight. Are you staying together? Yes, we’ve decided to fight for our marriage.
Are you splitting up? Yes. Now the real fight begins. We fight for custody of the kids, our share of the finances, our freedom from control.
What if, instead of fighting for a marriage, we look inward to figure out what about the situation needs to change so fighting is no longer necessary?
Maybe that means identifying generational trauma cycles and ending them.
Maybe that means honoring someone else’s lived experience and accepting them as they are.
And if, after careful examination, it becomes clear that the other person is unwilling or unable to step into those spaces with you, or you are unwilling or unable to step into those spaces with them, you can step away and love each other from a distance.
No mighty battle. No “good fight.” Just peaceful distance.
Of course, this takes two dedicated to love over fighting. If one side decides to react from a place of rage and fear, then you may have to defend yourself. But when your defense comes from a place of self-worth (love for yourself) versus rage (hate for the other), the energy changes.
Hate requires rage and fear to survive.
When we match rage with rage and fear with fear, we feed the hate, and starve the love. But if we meet hate with love, hate dies. Unfortunately, in a culture where hate is rewarded as “taking a stand” and love is deemed as weak, there’s always a ready supply of hate to fall back on. So, the only way to defeat hate is to teach love to enough people that hate starves.
*Hate is tricky, too, right? It comes disguised as righteousness, morality, and faith. The best marker I can find to determine whether an action is hateful is if other people feel they must defend themselves in the face of it. No one has ever had to defend themselves against love. Love and hate can’t exist within the same sentence. If both terms are used, then hate gobbles up any love there may have been.*
Is fighting ever necessary?
Yes. For now, in our current culture, often fighting is necessary. But over the past few weeks I’ve found myself feeding the hate with my own rage and fear. And so, as I’ve watched my own and other’s responses to their relationships and the world we’re living in, I wonder what would happen if we stopped fighting long enough to love?
Even if love bursts on the scene in stops and starts for a while, sputters a little while it gets going, every little moment where someone stops fighting long enough to let love in is a victory for peace.
What if, every time we used a war metaphor – every time we felt the rush of adrenaline to stand our ground – we replaced it with love?
What if our motives were the same – justice, fairness, to solve a problem or disagreement – but instead of approaching it with a battle mindset, we approached it with a love mindset?
What if – when we felt ourselves bristling with fear of oncoming attack – we looked inward rather than outward?
What I mean by that is… what if, at the first brush with rage and fear, we stopped, stilled our mind, and listened to what that rage and fear was saying to us?
Is it warning us? Of what? Is the situation dangerous? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to set a boundary or remove yourself from the situation.
Or, maybe your rage and fear are coming from an internal source. Maybe the situation has triggered a trauma response based on past experiences that have nothing to do with your present reality?
What if, instead of going immediately into warrior mode, you went into love mode?
What if you recognized the external danger for exactly what it really is… A manifestation of generational trauma that has nothing to do with you? Or a reaction to circumstances based on someone else’s very different lived experience?
What if we stopped feeling attacked every time someone lashed out at us, and instead came back at them with radical, audacious love?
What if our definition of love changed to make space for emotional, physical, and spiritual boundaries? What if love didn’t always mean strong feelings of warmth and affection, but rather, a strong commitment to honoring the journey of all, including ourselves?
Your actions don’t necessarily have to change. If someone is hitting you with a stick, you may have to hit them back, or run away.
But when we match other people’s rage with our own, we are poisoning ourselves. What if, instead of striking back with anger or running away in terror, we struck back from a place of love and respect for ourselves?
Because you are worth defending. Because you deserve to be safe. Because you deserve good things, and your present reality isn’t providing that.
What if there was no such thing as the “good fight?” What if, instead of fighting the good fight, we used love to solve the underlying problems that create the need to fight in the first place?
What if being a love warrior is only the first step of a very long journey?
One of my favorite author’s is Glennon Doyle. She’s raw and honest, real and wise. One of my favorite books is “Love Warrior.” There is so much wisdom and raw, courageous vulnerability within the pages of that book.
But lately, as I’ve become more acutely aware of the violence inherent in our cultural response to conflict, I am rethinking words like fight, warrior, battle, enemy, and war. I still (and will always) love and admire Glennon Doyle. But what if it’s time to step beyond the warrior mentality?
Glennon is a product of the evangelical church – one of our staunchest cultural devotees to the warrior mentality. And so it is not a surprise that she responds to life as a warrior. In her case, as a lesbian woman who left her role as a prominent voice in the conservative church to pursue true love, there is an important irony and deeper layer to her story and use of the terms “love” and “warrior” in the same title.
And perhaps the idea of being a love warrior, versus a hate warrior, was an important step towards understanding the role love must play if we are to overcome all that divides us. Perhaps we needed to see the juxtaposition of these two dichotomies in order to get our wheels turned in the right direction.
This is all new to me, too.
This awareness of our cultural obsession with war, battles, and the enemy is a new realization for me. It all came down in the past few weeks, when I said to my husband that I was so tired of fighting the culture war.
And it occurred to me, what if I just… stopped fighting?
My initial response is the typically American thought that we can never stop fighting for what is right. Then it occurred to me, maybe fighting isn’t the best way to fix what is broken? Maybe I don’t need to be a love warrior? Maybe I need to be a love crusader? A passionate campaigner for love as the only path to healing.
War can only occur in the absence of love.
Maybe my purpose is to help people find solutions that don’t require fighting?
With that goal in mind, I’m going to work hard to remove the following words from my vocabulary:
(Notice, friends, that the word conflict is not on the list. Interesting, right??? Conflict is inevitable, but how we choose to respond to that conflict does not have to include fighting.)
This is going to be a very difficult mindset shift.
My warrior mindset is a product of hundreds of years of cultural programming. I know I’ve taken on a difficult task. (It took a lot of self-control not to use the phrase “fighting an uphill battle.”)
The notions that “all we need is love” and “love is the answer” aren’t new. But until we step into that reality with the same intentionality and enthusiasm that we step into a warrior mindset, nothing is going to change.
And before I can teach others how to do this, I have to figure it out myself. And so, a new journey begins…