Beware the Ides of March....
That was the warning given to Julius Caesar by a seer in the ancient story which Shakespeare adapted into one of his most political and perceptive dramas. A number of senators, led by Brutus and Cassius, had sought to keep the Caesar in check. Eventually, as the rumours swirled and his minions' patience wore thin, the conspirators plunged their knives into their leader. Even Brutus betrayed his master and, allegedly, friend. The 'ides' – often served as a deadline for settling small debts. That day the senators’ great grievances were well and truly settled.
Anyone with an eye on the Brexit debate this week might wonder whether there are parallels. Prime Minister Theresa May has been repeatedly attacked, ridiculed and defeated – often by her own people. MPs and even front-benchers have been forming all kinds of conspiratorial groups. The metaphorical knives have certainly been wielded. May is certainly haemorrhaging – but, as we write, she lives still!
People lapse into violent behaviour – physical or verbal - when they feel disappointed, thwarted, overlooked, powerless, dispossessed, angry. Any or all of these negative emotions – and others – may combine to produce some kind of destructive, explosive behaviour. More evidence for that – if it were really necessary – comes this morning from New Zealand. This normally peaceful society has been shaken by news of a mass killing in a mosque in Christchurch. First evidence points to a single person who, angry at the presence of immigrants in his part of the world, simply shot indiscriminately at people at prayer. No doubt more awful details will emerge slowly.
Low levels of anger, disappointment, powerlessness and the rest lurk behind many an ordinary-looking front door. One partner does not live up to expectations seen by the other as ‘perfectly reasonable’(!) One sibling is sure that the other is favoured. Families and/or individuals feel that the dice is loaded against 'their kind of people'. Others seem to get their way all the time. And so the pressure of resentment builds up. Long-term hurts develop. Sadness builds into ‘mad-ness’. Nobody feels that the sadness behind their ‘mad-ness’ is being recognized. Needs express themselves in violent language and abuse. People have long memories for their resentments. Sadly enough, many partners or families never really resolve the issues. Likewise political groups.
One of Caesar’s titles was ‘pontifex maximus’ – the great bridge builder. We certainly are in dire need of people capable of building bridges. But the spirit of reconciliation is not very fashionable. Shouting our demands is dramatic and popular. It gets us noticed – and of course the media love it. We have long been encouraged to believe that happiness lies in 'doing our own thing'. ‘My way or the highway’.
Taking an alternative route requires some hard work on our part. Being true to oneself while allowing others the same freedom is a fine balance to strike. Respect for others while maintaining our own integrity sometimes seems a tall order. These are demanding tensions to sustain – most of all in relationships between people who either think they are right or between those who are not willing, even for a moment, to try and see things differently. Although we are unlikely to achieve perfect balance, successful relationships within our families, viable communities outside them, even world peace – and especially a mutually successful Brexit - depend on our human willingness to keep trying.
We’re always work in progress. And part of being works in progress involves recognizing that all our cherished stories about the world or ourselves are incomplete and can benefit with listening to other people. Maybe Theresa May has been forced to recognize that. We hope it is not too late. Julius Caesar probably never learned it. Maybe on the Ides of March 2019, we can learn it in time to feed some fresh life into our relationships, personal or political.