Your quality known among your enemies

It’s a powerful scene in the movie Kingdom of Heaven, in which newly-minted Christian knight Balian (Orlando Bloom) releases into freedom ‘Saracen‘ knight Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani. Balian had fought and defeated what he thought was Imad’s master, over a horse found on the master’s desert plot. Balian ordered Imad to take him to Jerusalem, but then released him and gifted him the horse.

“Your quality will be known among your enemies, before ever you meet them,” Imad says, before riding off.

The core idea–that someone’s quality of character could resonate far beyond oneself, even among those who might oppose you–is found in a number of faith and cultural traditions.

In the Buddhist Dhammapada: “Not in the sky, nor in the midst of the sea, nor yet in the clefts of the mountains, nowhere in the world (in fact) is there any place to be found where, having entered, one can abide free from (the consequences of) one’s evil deeds.”  At the core of this, of course, is karma–what goes around, comes around; you get what you give.  But there isn’t necessarily the recognition of character in this.  One’s karmic debt might influence one’s interaction with the universe, but that doesn’t mean one’s reputation precedes him.

In the Bible, too, are a number of corollaries.  In Galatians we find a line repeated in Kingdom of Heaven, as well, “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit.”

Or in Luke, with the story of the Good Samaritan.  Although a victim is left on the road by two people who might be expected to offer help, it was the ‘outcast’ Samaritan who was the true neighbor. Jesus is quoted as saying the true neighbor was “the one who treated him [the victim] with mercy,” telling us to “go and do likewise.”

Or perhaps Sirach has a better match. “The kindness people have done crosses their paths later on;  should they stumble, they will find support.” 

And that’s maybe bolstered in Philippians with the clear directive, “Your kindness should be known to all.”

Of course The Golden Rule applies to the core idea here as well, but it doesn’t necessarily deal with the idea your reputation for fairness and goodness would be known even by your enemies.

I’m not sure why this line speaks to me as it does. There are pros and cons to the world knowing you are just and good-hearted. Unscrupulous people might try to take advantage of your morals and personal credo, and use your playing-by-the-rules against you.

But among those with honor–and honor and nobility are characteristics inherent in the dynamics of Kingdom of Heaven–that reputation bolsters your standing as an honorable player, afforded respect and courtesy even among those who disagree or oppose you.

We can’t always know which people in our lives are playing honorably or unscrupulously, and we can’t control what someone might do with the knowledge we play by the rules.

As I’ve noted before: we can only control ourselves, our actions, and our interactions. How we will be judged, is how and who we are now. And it should be done with humility–there’s a difference in earning one’s reputation through action, or by being one’s own cheerleader.

What better moment for bettering the world than now?  If we were to be judged on our lives up to this point, can we stand confidently before our Judge and claim excellence?  In my opinion, everyone’s truthful answer should be “No, but I tried my best.”

As the headlights swerve toward you, don’t panic

It wasn’t until long after the car had passed, and I had escaped unscathed, that I realized I hadn’t panicked.  I remember hearing once that traffic incidents often happen near home, probably because we let our guards down.

Maybe that was in the back of my mind as I rode my scooter, on my street, three houses from my home, and I saw the headlights veering toward me.  Cars park along one side of my street, so it’s not unusual for a car to drift farther than necessary.  I watched closely though, shifting closer to the sidewalk on my side of the street.  The headlights kept coming. The speed was noticeable.  I moved even farther to the sidewalk.  Then the headlights swerved quickly toward me, then away, and the car passed.

I stopped, letting my scooter lean beneath me toward the sidewalk as I looked at the car, waiting for some sign that the driver was aware.  It appeared to run a stop sign and hurry away.  After continuing home, and taking stock of what had happened, I realized: I didn’t panic.

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When a forum on free speech faces realities of censorship

Coming into an event to talk about freedom of speech, sponsored by a ‘citadel of free speech,’ one might expect to have an open and honest conversation about..free speech.

But in reality, fear of persecution for panelists or their families is sometimes too strong a factor in how open people want to be.

Each month I moderate a free discussion on global affairs at a local pub, The Happy Dog. The event is sponsored by The City Club of Cleveland and a cadre of other globally-minded organizations in Northeast Ohio. We’ve talked about the refugee crisis and the future of Angela Merkel, we’ve talked about the origins of ISIS, we’ve even talked about foreign policy challenges for President Donald Trump and showed up on C-SPAN.

But our conversation in April 2017 on free speech and censorship in Turkey did not show up on C-SPAN, Facebook Live, or anywhere else.

Our panelists included a former Turkish judge, and a former Turkish official fired in a consolidation of support by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who were to talk about realities in Turkey. What was Turkey like before the coup attempt, before the crackdown on journalists and protesters, before now? Why does it seem Turkey at one point was headed toward the constitutional liberalism of Europe, and even partnership with the E.U., but now seems clearly authoritarian? What is the reality for individuals who don’t agree with Erdoğan, and what does that mean for their security?

The panelists agreed to speak at the event, but demurred at the conversation being recorded, or their names or images publicized. They feared retribution against their families and friends back in Turkey. They feared that speaking openly in a forum on free speech in a Cleveland pub would bring harm and persecution back home.

We had our conversation, and those present could enjoy it, but we agreed not to share details of the event as much and as freely as normal.

In my reporting about Egypt a year after the initial uprising that led to the fall of Mubarak I faced many people with the same worry that I saw in the panelists in Cleveland. Two tables of Egyptian expats in Zurich requested anonymity when we talked about the future of their country. A man at a Coptic church near Zurich initially agreed to speak to me on the record, but later wanted his name shielded because he had openly said in the interview he worried for his family…which in turn could attract something to worry about. (I agreed to shield his last name after-the-fact.)

And all around the world there is genuine persecution, including imprisonment and death, for the exercising of freedom of expression. But that direct and brutal imposition of censorship is compounded by the fear that causes people to self-censor out of a sense of self-preservation.

This is a reality of the internet that must not be forgotten, that a simple web search of a name might bring attention to someone speaking thousands of miles from a regime looking to suppress an opposition.

Journalists like me are at their core agents of free speech. Ideally, journalists work to promote and share the perspectives and realities of all segments of society. But it’s also sometimes a balance of protecting sources, protecting individuals, while letting the greater public know what’s going-on. I’m not a proponent of excessively allowing anonymity, and indeed think it should be used sparingly.

But sometimes granting that anonymity allows more information about the bigger reality to come through.

One of the panelists shared the work of Advocates of Silenced Turkey. Find them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/silencedturkey 

“…as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.” – Thomas Jefferson