There have been many words written, including in this column, of the great warriors and War Chiefs of the Cherokee. War stories and tales of recklessness and courage on the battlefield are fundamental to the storyteller’s art of course, and students at premier business schools are encouraged to study the Chinese classic “The Art of War” as a management manual. But in terms of long-term accomplishment and benefit to the people, there is much to be said for those who practice the art of peace.
Yonaguska, more commonly known to history as Drowning Bear, was a Peace Chief and leader of the community that would later become the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Less has been written of Drowning Bear then of some other Cherokee leaders of the time, possibly because he loved his community more than he loved the spotlight, or perhaps because tales of war are more popular than tales of peace. Regardless, he was an effective leader who put the welfare of his people first, and always walked the path of peace.
They say that at one point in his life, he suffered from an illness that resulted in a period of unconsciousness during which his people thought he was dead. On regaining consciousness, he told his people he had been to the other side, that he had met with the ancestors and spoken to the Great Spirit himself. Whither one believes this or not, one thing is certain, Drowning Bear was able to save his community from having to walk “The Trail Where They Cried.” As a Peace Chief and community leader, Drowning Bear has few equals. But unlike most who chose a path of peace with the whites, he remained a staunch traditional and always kept the missionaries at arm’s length.
Much can be learned from of Drowning Bear and others like him. One can walk the path of peace without compromising one’s own identity and principles. We are often taught to defend our positions with aggression. While an aggressive stance is one way to deal with conflict between opposing positions, it is not the only one. Also, we learn from his example that a peaceful approach to threat and conflict does not equal cowardice, and that violence is not the only, or even the best, answer.
In a society suckled on violence and weaned on war, we often forget that peace is also an option. We spend more money on instruments of violence then on books, more on improving our aim then on improving our intellect. Perhaps this is what led Drowning Bear, on having the Book of Matthew read to him for the first time, to make the wry comment, “It sounds like a good book, strange the whites are not the better, having had it so long”. But peace requires reason, and reason implies patience, both the building blocks of a great society, but not as much fun as blowing something up or screaming a stream of obscenities at someone that we disagree with.
There are occasions of course that require an aggressive response, and I am a firm supporter of the 2nd Amendment, but I also find more use for a book than a pistol most of the time. Reason and civil debate are the hallmarks of civilized men. They say that in the art of oratory, Drowning Bear had few equals, perhaps this is how he was able to prevent his community from joining a fight they were guaranteed to lose. Instead, he led his people along a path that is paying dividends to this day.
Drowning Bear, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, all men of peace who accomplished great things in different ways. in a moment of reflection, they can teach us that much is possible when we practice the “Art of Peace.”