Thursday, July 7, 2011

A river, a kettle, and a bird: 3 types of peace

Skateboarding culture is quite diversified. A look around a skate park reveals that it is a hub for people of all sorts. There are punk skaters who wear tight jeans, are often covered in tattoos, and play heavy metal; there are skaters who wear baggy jeans and a t-shirt, a cap or beanie, and listen to hip hop/rap. Then there are surfer/skateboarders as well as skaters who wear their pants rolled up in somewhat of a 1950's retro style. What's impressive is that though such groups may not usually mix they share a kinship at the skate park - at least from what I've observed.

A commentary from Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna [18th Century Kabbalah scholar] on the Talmud's list of 3 broad categories of peace helps me better understand the fellowship of the skate park. These types of peace are signified by a river, a kettle, and a bird:

1) River: A river is a symbol of commerce. Two cities trade with one another using the river to transport and exchange goods. The River thus signifies a form of peace based on mutual benefit.

2) Kettle: The kettle combines the opposite elements of fire and water in order to produce something which neither element can produce on its own. It represents a unity forged by a common goal or a common interest.

3) Bird: A bird has two dramatically different abilities: flight and land travel. Unlike the Kettle however, these two components are not brought together to form a bird. Rather, they extend out of one organism. The bird signifies an unconditional unity, where each party contributes to the relationship but the relationship is not contingent upon the contributions.           

These modes of unity can be seen as three progressively higher modes. In this scheme, the river is the lowest mode as it is characterised by self interest. The kettle is higher because the involved parties are focused on a common interest or goal rather than on personal gain. And the bird is the highest, for the unity it signifies is completely unconditional. In the absence of their common interest, parties to a kettle relationship tend to separate, whereas the bird type of unity is eternal.

I'd classify the skate park as a kettle. Skateboarding tends to be such a pronounced, important, and consuming aspect of skaters' lives that it becomes a strong point of convergence for the diverse groups at the park. The differences in lifestyle and manner typifying the different groups significantly dissolve within the skate park.

According to this model, the unity attained via skateboarding seems superior to the river, but inferior to the bird. However, we need not look at the three types of peace as successive levels. Each type can be viewed in isolation and appreciated on its own merits. Hence, surely the harmony of the skate park is wonderful in its own right, and what an incredible improvement there would be in world peace if the entire world was like one large skate park...

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