zen.jpgA diligent young American studied Zen philosophy in Japan. So as to hone and discipline his body as well as his mind, he also studiously practiced the martial arts and obtained an astounding proficiency. The young man very much wanted to make the Earth a better place and sincerely wanted to do right in the world. Being young, he yearned for an opportunity to use his martial skills in a noble way, in defense of the weak or to prevent evil or to right wrongs.

One late night our protagonist was riding the subway when an obviously inebriated, burly man boarded the train. In short order, the drunk began to be obnoxious and bother the other passengers. Our friend could see that the women and children were frightened and some of the elderly drew back in fear. Here was the opportunity he had been waiting for, here was his chance to be the white knight he always wanted to be. He would use the minimum possible violence, of course, because he took his vows seriously, but he would use his superior strength and use it with skill and zest.

Yet before our would-be hero could spring into action, someone else intervened. In a clear voice and as full of compassion as a mother speaking to her newborn, an old man spoke out: “What is the matter my son? What troubles you?” There was not an ounce of judgement in the tone, not a quiver of fear. The voice was friendly and strong yet gentle. The intoxicated man paused and looked at the old man. As their eyes met, the old man rose and embraced him. As the old man’s arms came around him, sobs began to rack his big shoulders and a tale of all too familiar human suffering and woe poured out.

Our young American friend sat down and pondered the lesson he had just learned. “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1), a gentle approach often yields a softer response. If at all possible, start with diplomacy. Assume there is good in others that can be reached. Yes, there is a place for physical strength and military might. The world is not always a safe place, there are those who are evil to the core. Yet to him with a hammer, everything is a nail. Simply because we are strong, we must not resort too readily to the use of physical strength.