You could list a hundred more.
Antonyms. One list I found included examples of words starting with every letter of the alphabet except for “x.” They make for fun primary school activities and coloring sheets. They are enormously helpful when teaching English as a second language or playing word games.
But some we take for granted are less obvious than they seem. Let’s talk about guilt and innocence.
In the United States, even if a person is suspected and charged with illegal actions against his neighbor or client or mankind, he is still considered innocent in the eyes of the law until proven otherwise. When in front of a jury of his peers, the burden of proof to convict lies with the prosecution.
However, at the end of the trial, that same person is declared either guilty or not guilty. In a US court of law, a person is never pronounced innocent. Although an abundance of evidence could make guilt evident to EVERYBODY (including, most likely, the defending attorney), there may be just that faintest shadow of doubt on his guilt, which demands a not-guilty verdict.
Unfortunately, many who have snuck through the system get out and claim they were “proven innocent,” when in actuality, it was a bunch of phony-baloney or technicalities that let them skirt the law, and the jury had no option but to let them go.
In other words, not guilty isn’t the same as innocent.
It’s an important distinction. Although most of us are not in positions to claim a person is guilty of anything, we’ve all watched as gleefully guilty people thumb their noses at the world and claim innocence because of inescapable legal constraints. Not guilty in the eyes of the law, maybe. But certainly not innocent.
In fact, it is often difficult to define complex issues with simple opposites. Think about the casual way we describe love. Seems easy, right? The antonym is obvious.
But Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel saw more than most and knew better. He went beyond the easy and discovered that “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference…”
Here’s another one that hits closer to home than I like: There is a misconception that the absence of war is the presence of peace. That war and peace are just opposites. And I maintain that’s inaccurate – by a lot.
Not that war and peace aren’t substantially different.
Yes, it has been a long time since the entire weight of the US military has been called into action. We have been involved in wars around the world in recent years, in which we have taken an active role in securing political and economic stability when rebels and terrorists invade with the intent to create havoc and exert power.
By and large, though, our headlines have not been filled with statistics and battlefield reports for many years. The last declarations of war were against Japan, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania in World War II. And the only conflict in which we are officially engaged right now is the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan.
But are we really a nation at peace?
Just because we are not “at war” with other nations, do we really feel peaceful?
I know I don’t.
Because true peace is not simply the absence or opposite of war. Peace is the opposite and absence of tension, anxiety, fear, discord, inequality, and subjugation. It is the presence of understanding, truth, authentic conviction, equality, and justice, qualities that are rarely in the same room together, let alone in the whole country.
I have always believed that my life-long goal is peace. But maybe my contentment and sense of peace is better described as the status quo. What I have long believed to be peace is truly just the feeling of security I enjoy as a privileged and entitled person in an unjust world.
It is true. As a nation, we have not been officially at war for a long time. We have enjoyed prosperity, limited ebb and flow of happiness, and relative health.
But the absence of war does not imply peace. It just means we aren’t arming ourselves with guns and tanks and weaponized aircraft against the world.
For millions of people in this country – and for even more who long to be here – life is not peaceful. There is no relief for people of color from tension, anxiety, fear, discord, inequality, or subjugation. And the white privileged’s display of understanding, truth, authentic conviction, equality, and justice which, at its best, is weak and fleeting is, at its worst, intentionally and smugly missing.
I cannot go back and fix the past. Apologies are necessary, but looking at the history of white people creating the opposite of peace for everyone else with a sad face and a prayer that our nation will be healed is entirely insufficient.
To those who paid for my status quo with their absence of peace, I can only say right now “I’m really sorry.” But for me to believe that simply looking forward with fresh eyes and a willingness to do better is not enough.
I’m not a consistent person. I want so much to have daily practices of prayer and reading, creating and caring for my home and family. I want to make lists and keep a schedule.
I wish I could say with confidence, “From here on out, man, you’re gonna see a whole new Nancy.”
I can’t. I know I will fail not only in my personal quest to understand where I fit and where I stand in the world of unity and peace, but I will also slip back into old responses – even if unspoken and caught within seconds of forming in my heart and mind. I know I will.
But the long and short of it is this: whenever my peace and status quo lead, even indirectly, to war and pain for others, I pray Jesus will send me a message that jars me out of my comfort. It may be a word from you, a song of revelation, or a virtual cry of help from someone in need. Or it could be a haunting video I can’t un-see of someone sworn to serve and protect pepper spraying the unarmed who pose no threat.
Whatever it takes, I hope I move without pause or hesitation toward the opposite of war. I want to change my course and walk with intention – my opposite of indifference – down a path, ever closer to authentic love and true peace…