Amid warnings of terrorist attacks, there have been two developments in foreign relations in the past few days that might have seemed almost inconceivable just a few years ago: the announcement that Russia and the United States will reduce their nuclear arsenals by almost two-thirds, and a new agreement of cooperation between Russia and the NATO countries.
Because the Cold War has receded in the thoughts of most people, neither development of itself may seem that noteworthy. But to a generation that grew up aware that the main centers of both countries had been targets for attack, it represents an amazing change in the world.
Behind every change in human affairs there are, of course, many factors at work. But the thinking of the individuals involved in the ultimate outcome is always a major factor.
In this case, one thinks first of the fortitude and courage that kept arms negotiators at work over the years, looking for a solution that would benefit the interests of all parties. One thinks of Paul's advice in one of his letters: "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men ..." (Gal. 6:9-10).
What seemingly intransigent situations in foreign affairs, or in the affairs of a community or even a family, call for are the resolve to continue looking for some progressive adjustment. They are testing times for the resolve of everyone involved to continue working for progress, even while not being naive about the degree of conflict or opposition that may be involved.
A statement by the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, has often seemed apropos to such situations. It reads, "Right motives give pinions to thought, and strength and freedom to speech and action" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 454).
The potential conflict with the former Soviet Union was not with its citizenry, but with a totalitarian ideology that, had it succeeded, would have oppressed even larger numbers of people. There are other conflicts in which we are involved today that seem even more intractable: the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, in which religious, cultural, and ethnic differences all play some role. Or the terrorist threat, in which the threat of a kind of organized anarchy would destroy the law and order that make civilized life possible.
The "right motive" necessary to deal with all conflict is to find a solution that can benefit everyone. This doesn't mean ignoring what seems to be totally evil in someone else's conduct. But neither does it mean winning as one side does in a baseball or football game.
It means having the patience and perseverance to continue, as Paul said, in well-doing in this case, in trying to make a peace that is not just a victory for "us" but a victory for humanity. In the end, it means some recognition that underneath whatever evil motives seem to be at play, there is a deeper fact of human brotherhood that needs to be discerned.
For those of us who don't sit around large tables negotiating arms control deals, where do we come in? First of all, we can be thoughtful about the time it often takes to resolve human affairs.
Without the patience and perseverance of many individuals over several decades, the positive outcomes we do see would not be possible. Instead of an absolute win for "our side," our motive should be to draw our circle larger, around more of humanity. And we do this most easily when we acknowledge that we all, despite the most intense human differences, are held in a common bond of humanity by our creator.
How does this affect the outcome of negotiations in some faraway place? The collective mental atmosphere of any society reflects itself in the motives and actions of its officials. This is particularly the case with a democracy, whose leaders know that they are answerable to the citizens. We should be grateful for every step of progress, and at the same time pray for patience and unselfish motives to guide the actions of our officials.