Mulhall column: Blessed are the meek
Memories of the late ’60s seem so distant to me now that some defy accurate timeline placement. Among these, calf roping lessons at the former Cardiff rodeo grounds stand out.
My instructor, Rick, started me on a wooden roping dummy made of two-by-fours — nothing more elegant than a saw horse cut extra close to the ground with an upwardly angled protuberance for a head.
One day I arrived early to find Rick standing in the ring with a filly, leading her by the reigns and occasionally flopping a few coils of rope on the ground before her where she could see and step over. This went on for several minutes before Rick waved me out.
Curious, I asked Rick what he was doing. He explained he was getting the horse used to the rope.
“Takes time to meek a roping horse,” he said.
Severe allergies to horse dander cut short my roping education, but the experience, though brief, nevertheless provided the extent of equestrian knowledge I now enjoy, which is fairly encapsulated in the fact I know which side of a horse to get on.
It also defined the word “meek” in a way that stuck.
According to Webster, the word “meek” means “enduring injury with patience and without resentment; deficient in spirit and courage; not violent or strong.” Dictionary.com puts it this way: “humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others; overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame; (Obsolete) gentle, kind.”
It’s fair to say that today the word has come to connote sycophantic conflict avoidance.
Some of today’s social justice warriors proffer this conception not just as the best human nature has to offer, but also as Christ’s meaning in the Beatitudes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:5 in particular, invoked to herald pacifism as a virtue.
But the word “meek” in the Beatitudes comes from the Greek word “praus,” a military equestrian term referring to tempered power.
Sam Whatley described the English word’s equestrian etymology thus:
“Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and broken for riding. Some were used to pull wagons, some were raced, and the best were trained for warfare. They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg. They could gallop into battle at 35 miles per hour and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. Then they were said to be meeked.”
Nevertheless, by the word’s modern meaning some oppose force of any kind and in this opposition downplay the difference between aggression and self-defense. Case in point, on May 27, 2016, speaking in Hiroshima, Japan, then-President Barack H. Obama said:
“The World War that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet, the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes; an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.”
President Obama rendered World War II as some vulgar conquest instinct that caused “the wealthiest and most powerful of nations” to act like “the simplest tribes” without so much as a nod to the fact that participation was for some nations a Hobson’s choice.
On that day President Obama also said, “[W]e must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without [nuclear arms].”
The simplicity of it sounded perfectly bucolic: Just say no to nuclear weapons. And there it stood, in stark contrast to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Obama supported and promoted 10 months earlier in July 2015. That unratified international agreement green-lighted Iran’s nuclear program, proving perhaps “meek’s” modern meaning extends to suppressing one’s own preservation instinct.
Now, as in 2009, there is discord in the streets of Iran.
In the wake of the 2009 Iranian elections that kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power despite broad popular support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the Obama administration quickly acknowledged Ahmadinejad as the rightfully elected leader, and Iran’s 2009 “green revolution” petered out.
Today, Iranians protest their flagging economy due, some say, to austerity measures meted out by mullahs after President Obama released billions in assets, some frozen since the 1979 hostage crisis. Perhaps these protests suggest Obama’s economic largess only benefits Iran’s 1-percent — maybe not the hope and change our President wanted to export.
If true, was it a mistake to think Iran’s mullahs would do anything but dutifully honor every single detail of the JCPOA?
Without our President’s support, what would Iran’s nuclear program be now? It’s hard to say, but a non-nuclear destabilized Iran could be a good thing. A nuclear destabilized Iran? Probably not.
Meekness is the self-discipline to arrest fear and anger and turn them into tempered courage and reasoned action, not mollification.
Rick taught me that—not all that long ago.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.