The King James Bible explains Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus in Acts 26:14 this way:
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Modern translations of the Bible have changed the word “pricks” to “goads.” But the meaning—that it is unwise to rebel against authority, particularly Heavenly authority— resonated deeply for the Apostle Paul’s audience in the court of King Agrippa when he was explaining his conversion from Judaism to Christianity.
In addition to the spiritual point, the idea that people (as well as bovines) have to be pricked to alter their course and change their ways is as old as time. Or, at least as old as the Greek proverb from which the wording of the proverb originates.
People in conflict sometimes enjoy the outcomes that they experience through engaging, or avoiding, or accommodating, the conflicts endemic in their lives. When a difficulty arises in an individual’s work or family life, people respond in ways familiar to them and others, following established patterns and mouthing lines in a script written long ago and repeated so often, that it’s not new to anyone involved. When a disagreement between two people happens, they both respond in ways that are “baked in” to their biology and psychology—and then they wonder silently why the outcomes are similar all the time.
American culture celebrates a rebellious spirit. After all, the Founding Fathers rebelled, and all the way from then until now, rebellion, rioting, “speaking truth to power,” and all of the other iterations and manifestations of refusing to go along with any authority have been lauded and honored in American culture.
This is not a recent development. Marketers, novelists, and filmmakers (nonconformists all) were the people who created the image and mass marketed the message that sameness, uniformity and conformity was a negative rather than a positive.
But, think back to the beginning words of the proverb “It IS HARD for thee to kick…”
Rebellion leads to conflicts, wars, and disruptions as power structures at cultural, societal and even familial levels are overturned and democratized. But once the flame of rebellion is lit and stoked, it swells to a brush fire that consumes everything in its path—and its wake. We recall the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
For peace builders, rebellion begins with questioning the underlying assumptions that society has around peace, conflict, resolution, and reconciliation.
But it IS hard to manage, mediate, negotiate and facilitate the fires of rebellion, once they are lit. Saul turned Paul realized this. So did King Agrippa. And we would be wise to recall the deeper meanings and consider the hard ramifications of the old lesson, in our modern, fractious times, as well.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: email@example.com