I was having an interesting conversation with my boys the other day, and it got me to thinking afterwards. We were talking about fictional characters from TV or books and whether they were people you would like to be with if you were somehow in their world or they in ours. Indirectly, I was trying to assess whether my kids really were bonding with the characters from their favorite cartoons such as Yu-Gi-Oh! and Poke`mon.

I cited some characters from Star Trek and The Animorphs books and noted that the heroes in both series were people I would be glad to call my friends. I’d enjoy their company and trust them, even independent of the wonderful adventures in the stories. I then asked about the Japanese Amime` cartoon characters. I was particularly interested in these because the “heroes” seem to spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy puffing up and verbally posturing to one another. There’s a lot of yelling, and frankly, I don’t think I’d like them. Not surprisingly, the boys really hadn’t thought much about it, but upon reflection they decided that they watched the shows for the creatures and monsters, and more than a little bit because all their friends did. I don’t think they did or would care much about what the characters were like. I doubt our discussion will dull their interest, but maybe it will be food for thought as they begin to emerge into the world of people.

But my mind continued to wander from that discussion, and I began to muse about groups being considered as having personalities. After all, most any group when viewed `en masse has a personality of sorts. They have behaviors, attitudes, communication styles, etc. All the same traits we use to make relationship decisions about people as individuals. This is true of small groups like the Dixie Chicks, and equally true of larger groups like the local PTA or the Elks club. Scaled up, it is also true of nations.

Let’s consider that. In the great cafeteria of planet Earth, the USA sports a personality as does France, Russia, Yemen, and Upper Volta. So you’re now “the lunch lady” in Earth’s cafeteria, and all the kids are exhibiting their personalities. Which kids are well behaved? Which ones do you admire? Which ones do you wish for their mothers to wash their mouths out with soap? Which would you send to the principal’s office?

It’s an interesting thought experiment, and one in which I’m personally finding I wouldn’t like how our country is behaving. While I might be intimidated by the USA sitting at the table with all it’s cronies, I doubt I would want to join the table. I can picture them sitting there preaching caring and benevolence while at the same time intimating that people should cow-tow to their wishes or else. There would be confrontations in the yard at recess with the kids opposing them. There would be pressure to conform to the will of the “cool group”. Assertions that if you weren’t part of that group you were nobody.

I suspect I’d find that group to be a bunch of arrogant bullies. I’d pity the hapless minions too weak to stand on their own and too scared to do anything but conform. I’d probably try to keep my distance from the lot of them. But if their influence grew too much and started encroaching on my life, I’d be tempted to react with poignant subtlety. Choosing to super glue their sneakers to the floor in gym class or program the computer to tank their grades rather than challenging the table of the meaty and mighty directly. In short, I’d be a terrorist of sorts. And I suspect I’d feel pretty morally righteous about it as their behavior warrants someone standing up to them.

Running through this logic I find that while I can’t support terrorism, I do understand it more. I understand why it is not the domain of the crazed or radical (as it is often portrayed). Terrorists are often very well educated, thoughtful, clever, and determined people. People with a sense of self-worth and of justice. People like you and me – under different circumstances.

From an early age we learn that old saw, “Do unto others and you would have them do unto you.” Why shouldn’t that apply to the nation as much as to us as individuals? The USA would not tolerate being treated by the world in the manner in which we are treating it. To a degree we have to begin to accept that we are inviting much of the reaction we get in the world. But much like kids at the “cool table” in the lunch room, we can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t want to be us. Is it really so generous of us to pull up additional chairs at our table? Or is it just arrogant?

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