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Humility and gentleness

C S Forester in his classic The General, offers an insightful analogy in his critique of the English High Command during the first world war. The commanding officers were committed to the old modes of military conflict: infantry advances with guns, calvary ready to follow with lances and swords, war by attrition, the winner declared as the last man standing. Machine guns were thought novelties, and tanks despised as clumsy. But the dogged commitment to the old ways led to a bloodbath.

Forester said it was like approaching the removal of a screw, but using tools for the extraction of a nail. More applied force would not bring one closer to the solution, but only raise the level of frustration and harm. Whereas a little humility might have considered a new tool, and a new action of turning, with less force, and less collateral damage.

How hard it is to teach an old dog new tricks. Or to encourage those who are accustomed to the old ways, that there are not just new ways of doing things, but actually new problems to solve. Jesus suggested the same. New wine, he said, needs to go into new wineskins, otherwise the old skins will burst. And “no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better’”. It seems to me that on that occasion, Jesus was calling for new-wine-thinkers to be gentle, and for old-wine-lovers to be humble. And how necessary remains the lesson.

DM 24th September 2022

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