January 31, 2006 was a momentous day I will not soon forget. A good friend called to ask if I would join him for coffee. It was on this day that I came to respect an ideal that I otherwise would have given no thought to because of my opinionated nature, and for this, I will always be in his debt.
He was ready to ship out to Iraq and wanted to say good-bye. Smiling and lighthearted as always, his carefree grin slipped for just a moment when I could not help but ask the cynical question that had been bothering me.
“Do you really think using a gun to silence these people is going to make the world a safer place?”
He looked at me with almost sympathetic eyes and nodded not in approval or disapproval, but in what seemed to be contemplation.
“You know,” he began, taking a sip of his soda, “I thought about that. I sure don’t want to have to kill anyone, and I don’t want anyone to kill me, but there are some really bad people over there doing bad things to really good people. I’m not saying it’s right to kill, but you can’t just do nothing. I’m just trying to help good people in the most effective way I know.”
There was silence as we both reflected on what the other had said, and despite our different beliefs, we learned that we were both trying to see the same world become a better place. He taught me that at the end of every day we are individuals, and as such we have our own reasons and justifications for doing what we do. It was unquestionable to me that occupying Iraq was wrong, and it was unquestionable to him that occupying Iraq was right. We both had our reasons. The wisdom lies in understanding that although our methods may differ, we both share the same goal to make the world a safer, more secure place. We’re both just trying to help in the only way we know how.
In the 1700s, a standout political philosopher named Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” True as this may be, when we stand against something that is immoral or wrong, we must also ensure that our actions don’t commit another wrong in the process. Murder in the name of righteousness is still murder, and the lesser of two evils is still evil. I have nothing but the utmost respect for men or women who put their lives at risk to help another person, but an act of violence should never be used to achieve a positive solution because in the end it can never really offer one.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.