At the very end of every Billy Joel concert I’ve seen, just as he leaves the stage for good, he throws a comment into the microphone, quick as a sucker punch* – “Don’t take shit from no one.” I first assumed it represented a reaction to the tough life of performing, and/or advice from the “fatherly” side of Joel, but later I came to believe he means, “Stick up for yourself.” Good advice. And given how hard that can be, perhaps it’s a good idea to keep repeating it.
I wish the peace movement, any group advocating for peace, would adopt a similar approach, and the sooner the better. I’m not referring to the “don’t take shit” part, although that’s a good idea as well, but this – instead of promoting PEACE, promote NO WAR. You see, Joel didn’t say “do this” (stick up for yourself), he said, don’t do this (let someone do bad things to you). Here’s why I think it matters and why it relates to peace.
Telling someone what not to do offers open-ended options along with the advice, while advising what to do leaves only one option – DON’T DO THAT – and along with that the often enough heard reaction in the form of, “Who on Earth do you think you are? I’ll do whatever I think I want to do,” i.e. invade, bomb, eliminate (disappear), execute, etc.
“There’s no free lunch,” and advocating no war alone, may not be a convincing argument. But it’s a way to a conversation that allows for dialog. And a dialog is likely necessary considering you, the peacenik, are attempting to convert or at least enlighten someone who as yet does not appreciate the benefits of not killing when it still seems like a good idea.
John Lennon sang, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.” He also advertised, “WAR IS OVER! If you want it.” Perfect. And effectively, it asks a question, do you want it? It places a person in the position of answering yes, or no, without telling someone, “DO THIS.”
And peace, as great an idea as it is, is an abstraction – it’s what you have left when you take away un-peaceful-like acts. Peace is not necessarily quiet, nor boring or even safe. But it is…not warlike.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule. Complicated. Make a list of what do I want from others and deliver that to others in the hope I’ll get some of it in return. It sounds naive at best. Which may be why an ancient teacher named Hillel offered this: “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor.”
Don’t do to someone what you don’t like yourself. Simple. And lots of options I can pick from, without telling me what to do. I’m still free to go around doing whatever, just leave out what I don’t want to get.
Here’s the complete text of that teaching:
It happened again that a certain stranger came before Shammai and said to him:
–“I will become a proselyte providing you teach me the whole Torah while I’m standing on one foot.”
(Shammai) knocked him down with the builder’s rule in his hand.
(The stranger) came before Hillel, who made him a proselyte.
He told him:
–“What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor.
That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go, learn (it)!”
— Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 31a
What do Hillel, Lennon, and Joel have in common?
Both use the same method to present a definate idea of what’s important to them, but without pointedly telling you what to do.
Just what not to do:
Don’t accept abuse.
Don’t do the war thing.
And don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.
OK peaceniks, become nowarniks.
* As a teenager, Joel did fight 24 times in the ameture Golden Goves circuit.