Mechanics and gardeners

Life goes on. We know the Russians have invaded Ukraine but what can I do about it? I can pray and that is good. But it is usually all I can do in such moments.

Yet it helps to think about it. Our screens show burning buildings – not from some accidental fire but by the deliberate intention of people who do not seem to care about human life, about the suffering of children, about mothers becoming widows, about people starving and unable to keep warm in that harsh climate.

How is it possible, after all we have gone through in wars over the earth, that we still don’t put an end to war and solve our problems by listening and talking round a table? If we do listen, we learn that the Russians do have some reasons for their actions. They do feel threatened by the western alliance that has now extended to their borders.

After the Second Word War which ended in 1945, the Russians seemed intent on expanding westwards and the Americans and Europeans dreaded another war where they would have to fight, not Germany, but Russia. An American diplomat in Moscow, called George Kennan, understood the Russians and that they had always felt threatened and wanted to expand their influence in order to feel secure. Kennan wrote a famous ‘long telegram’ to his superiors in Washington proposing the Americans display their power but hold back from any threat of action.

Later he explained,

‘We must be gardeners and not mechanics in our approach to world affairs. We must realize that we did not create the forces by which this process operates. We must learn to take these forces for what they are and to induce them to work with us with understanding and sympathy, not trying to force growth by mechanical means, not tearing the plants up by the roots when they fail to behave as we wish them to. We do not need to insist that change in the camp of our adversaries can come only by violence.’

These have always struck me as wise words. To be a mechanic is to impose your will on a machine and make it do what you want. To be a gardener is to recognise the built-in nature of the plants and work with them in the hope of producing the results you hope for.

The Russians do have a problem. But we can lament that they did not ‘work with’ the people they considered threatened them. It is not my wish to start an argument over the rights and wrongs of this crisis. It is too sad for words. As we enter this precious period of Lent, we can lament this tragedy and try in our own way to be gardeners in all the relationships in which we are engaged.     (6 March 2022)






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