"Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience. Taking responsability for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them" ~ Byron Katie
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5fOvcta3Ws&feature=related ~ Peter Gabriel 'Digging in the Dirt'.
When in discussions on peaceful ways to responding to violence I have found this question is often posed: "What would you do if a person had a gun and was going to threaten to kill someone?". And the people asking this sometimes go on to add ~ "Because you do not want to harm them; would a peaceful response mean just standing by and not intervening? Would you stand by and let them kill others?" Not surprisingly I have found myself struggling to respond.
I have heard a a range of answers. One which I have found very moving is that a peaceful person would stand in front the person with the gun. They would risk their own lives to protect others. Selflessly. That it is the vacancy of fear that breaks the cycle of violence. And on hearing this I have pondered whether I could do such a thing, whether I could act not out of fear. And to be honest my answer has been that I am not confident that I could.
Then I remembered a time when I saw two young men deep in a very bloody fight. I went straight up to them and split both of them a part. They stopped. I didn't shout. I felt no fear. Just a desire for them to stop hurting each other. I was with another who when we left the two young men was enraged with me for intervening. He had watched on in fear for himself and me. He said to me what if one of them had turned on you with a knife? Or had a gun? He said I was stupid because I did not think of my own safety or his. I responded that I wanted them to know that someone cared. That it was not OK. That I did not want them to hurt. I remember feeling this very strongly.
I also remember many a time when I was a child where my father would be submerged in a mad rage. And I use the word mad as I now consider he had lost his self and sanity. Such was his level of madness he had at one time almost killed my mother. And if I think if he had a gun when he 'lost it' what then? If someone had stepped in would love and compassion have touched his true self through the madness?
Back to the question. This pondering then led me to ask why were people so frequently posing this question. I began to realize that this question kept me in a mental bind/dead end, that saw the violent act in isolation. Could this question, this moral dilemma be in fact a trap which would not help in finding responses to violence? In fact in order to respond to violence and create peaceful loving living maybe what is needed is a different approach. And this could lead to different questions being asked. Could the question itself actually be part of the problem of how violence is seen?
Growing up in a violent family I have only recently began to appreciate how this has given me much insight, with regards to violence. This journey continues and so far has taken over 20 years of searching to understand. And I am sure I have more to learn, more healing will occur and with that further understanding. Key to this learning and discovery is how the violent act follows after a range of non physical violent behaviours. This abuse can come in the form of emotional, psychological and mental communications. The hit is like a confirmation of all that has been before. The violent physical act is like a locking of a door. And it's key is control carved out of fear.
The other main insight I learnt was that after I had become a victim of an abusive relationship was that I had internalised the oppressor/aggressor as well as the victim. Some describe this as a Shadow part. And that this Shadow had two faces both the oppressor and aggressor. Which like a cloaked figure whispers words; giving a warped view on the world. I also realized ~ How else could I have accepted someone else treating me like this if I had not this Shadow inside?. If I had not normalized violence. The healing for me was to see this cycle of violence. To see that I could step outside of the violence. I had choice. I had power.
I think we need to see physical violence as a symptom and not cause. If we do then I think we begin to see that violence is not just a physical act, but in fact part of a much more complex problem which we all can be locked into. Because we are all connected. And because we are all connected then we all have power to create positive change. Physical violence comes after a long history of behaviours which can be as subtle as a thought expressed in word or even a look. It is generational in families and in societies. If we see that violence is not an isolated act done by evil individuals, then we can also see the connections that led to the violence. We there by step out of blame and into sharing responsibility. This is an empowered place to be. A place of believing and knowing that we all can have a positive impact.
Violence is normalized and accepted in our society. Children are taught this at home and in school. The highs of the emotional intensity that we see daily in our press, on the TV, in our films is an addiction covering up pain, loss and isolation. It is deeply dysfunctional that violence is romanticised through endless disaster movies and violent computer games. So many have a need to forget they have a disconnection to true self, that is expressed through the numbing of pain that is created by and creates violence. It can be a vicious cycle.
So when we are given moral dilemmas like this question, I would suggest stepping back and asking why this question is being asked. What might be the hidden agendas? That in fact there is another way in responding which adds to further understanding. That address the causes. Enabling more ways to heal. More ways to step in earlier. More ways to prevent the violence because we will be more equipped to respond, having addressed potential wounds in ourselves and in our own relationships and ultimately in our societies. We can see how all of us can have an affect by sharing ownership and responsibility. We can step outside the duality of them and us. How though it might seem fear has the upper hand ~ healing is possible. We then will be more empowered ourselves and able to support one another, in being in a place of compassion. Out of Love.
Yes it can be painful thawing the ice. But unless we thaw our hearts not only will we not feel the pain inflicted on ourselves and other humans, but also our beautiful nature and planet.
After I had split the two young men up, I heard that they later on went back and started fighting again. This was when I was out of their view. So I leave with this thought what do I choose to focus on. That they continued with their violence or that for that moment they stopped. That they saw that some one cared?
I believe that we create life how we want it. So I believe in the power of love. I believe it is never impossible. I believe it is never too late.
So mote it be.
A link to Gene Sharp whose work has been so influential as has been read by activists in Egypt. The Albert Einstein Institution.
and a wonderful book:
"Small Acts of Resistance. How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World." Steve Crawshaw & John Jackson.