By Erin Niemela
Two days before Christmas my brother called, frantically demanding I tell him what to purchase for my two young children and myself. For the kids, I said, buy Legos. For myself, I neither need nor want anything. I requested he write for me a brief letter answering the following question: If you could give me anything in the world for Christmas, what would it be and why? My dear brother’s response was less than agreeable: “What the hell? I’m too busy to do that! Just tell me what you want!” In his defense, he just had a new baby, but his response warrants a closer look into American culture and how it impacts all of us.
Time is Money…
My brother, like many other Americans, has aggressively adopted themetaphor for daily life time is money, and so asking him to spend 20 minutes thinking of me was in many ways more expensive than the 20 dollars he opted to spend for my brand new touch-screen Agloves. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, cognitive linguists, confronted the time is money metaphor in 1980 with their masterful text, Metaphors We Live By, explaining that in Western industrialized culture, time is a commodity, a finite resource that can be spent, invested, budgeted and borrowed.
Time may be money, but our investment of time is final. There are no returns. There are no buy-backs. We see this limitation in American war investments – we’ve spent an awful lot of time and money, 11 years and $1.4 trillion and counting, to be exact, neither of which we can get back, “winning hearts and minds.” Violence as a form of conflict management is expensive in both time and money. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act requests $525.4 billion for funding “high priority” national defense investments, such as unmanned surveillance aircraft.
The 2013 budget for international affairs is much more modest: $51.6 billion. In the proposed budget’s opening statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledges this distinction of cheap conflict management: “With just over one percent of the federal budget, our diplomats and development experts make an outsized contribution to out national security.” Yet preventing and managing conflict through economic development and assistance, diplomacy, clean energy development, USAID, civilian capacity building, cultural exchange programs, dialogue programs, conflict resolution skill building, nonproliferation and peacekeeping programs requires time. And in America, time is money, making nonviolent conflict management seem like the most luxurious, advanced technology available on the market.
…But Not When It Comes to War
Looking deeper, however, war operations only appear to be an efficient use of time. Although pulling a trigger is much faster than dialogue, violent conflict management on a global scale isn’t quick and easy. Land mines, for instance, took time to distribute. They also take time to kill. It took more than 20 years for some Soviet-era land mines in Afghanistan to detonate, finally killing nine innocent Afghan girls children collecting firewood on December 17, 2012. Post-war reconstruction costs hoards of time (and money) to rebuild infrastructure, clean up environmental degradation and destruction, mitigate mental and physical health issues associated with war, and other community regenerating processes, if these are completed at all. Some damages last forever, such as the results of chemical and nuclear warfare, and forever is a long, long time.
Time has a return on investment, promulgated by another metaphorical cultural code: You reap what you sow. For this reason, we cannot continue to throw the full weight of our federal budget into the tools of death and destruction instead of life-affirming, peace building initiatives. Investing time in war and violent conflict management guarantees more war, more violence and more conflict. This is as inefficient and self-defeating as inserting a tumor into one’s brain and expecting it to prevent or destroy other tumors.
Violent conflict is a tumor in the global body. A wise doctor wouldn’t send a patient straight to the operating room. A wise doctor would begin treating the patient by identifying specifically tailored options. If surgery became necessary, a wise surgeon wouldn’t rush into the operating room and start tearing out organs with hellfire rage. Proper time and care would be taken to ensure a positive, specific outcome facilitating the well being of the patient. Furthermore, no doctor or surgeon would discourage any patient from engaging in measures to prevent future illness. Diplomacy, peace building and development are the same as proper diet, exercise and sleep – necessary measures to prevent major conflict in the body politic. Spend time now, save time, money and pain later—or, as timeless wisdom comes down to us, A stitch in time saves nine.
This New Year, let’s spend more time building, maintaining and promoting healthy relationships with one another, even if it’s just 20 minutes invested in letter writing. Let’s demand that our government also invests its time more wisely in cultivating relationships, preventing and properly managing conflict nonviolently, instead of wasting time and money on wars that only preclude good health and instead promote more violent conflict. If we’re going to reap what we sow, let us reap positive peace, holistic global health, and enriching relationships with families, friends and communities worldwide.Φ
Erin Niemela is a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University and a PeaceVoice syndicated journalist.