Violence and Non-Violence

Today’s Principle: Dharma

I got rid of TV for a reason: so as to rid myself of the mesmerizing yet seductive footage of 9/11 and other such tragedies, and especially those of war and disaster. Maybe I wanted to be in a cocoon, safely protected from the depravity of the real, outside world. Since leaving the plugged-in world, I found more time to meditate, to write, and dream.  But now I’m on Facebook and having 1000+ “friends” (I prefer to think of them as “contacts”) means that I am inundated with all the news I have worked so hard to steer away from.

This past month’s news has siphoned through lots of rhetoric about the shootings in Arizona and the non-violence advocated by Martin Luther King, Jr. I watched as the Facebook feed was littered with links to witty or insightful op-eds, videos, commentary on the shootings in Tucson (where I recently visited), Senator Giffords’s recovery status, and the broad impact of the use of “violent” language. I was as addicted to this “news” as I was in the aftermath of 9/11. I hurt.

[Pomp, photo by Daniel W. Barlow]

I didn’t even know anyone directly involved, but somehow the loss of lives, the inanity of it all took root, and I needed to know, to understand, why. About a week after the shooting in Tucson, my Facebook feed was still lit up with opinions etc. I clicked on a couple of links, but every time I did, I hurt. My short Facebook attention span snapped. There would be no end to my personal suffering until I made the choice to look away, which I did.

It’s a hard choice to make, since “looking away” is synonymous with “ignoring” in my book.  But there are plenty of people paying attention right now, so I feel no guilt. What’s one look away, one breather from the very taxing job of absorbing the world’s heartaches?

These things come to mind:

1. An old roomie of mine began a meditation practice of breathing in the world’s troubles and breathing out peace. This was how she put it at least. About a month or so after she started, she confided that the troubles kept building up, and caused increased spiritual pain. She hadn’t figured out how to unload all that she was taking in. I suggested taking a break from the practice, saying something akin to “The Dalai Lama does this everyday. And it’s taken him 14 lifetimes, and he still hasn’t gotten it down. You can’t expect to do it well in a month’s time.”

2. I had volunteered to be a mentor of a girls’ empowerment summer program, sponsored by the local AIDS awareness center. My first day didn’t go well. We talked about our feelings and cycles of violence and oppression, which is all well and good, but… the discussion wasn’t well-rounded to include the views of non-women, and those unlike ourselves. This really bothered me, though I did not say anything. The director noticed and followed up in a telephone conversation with the me afterwards. I remember her stressing the importance of “battling” oppression, and “winning the war” against sexism, and the ongoing “fight” and “struggle” that women have to deal with everyday.  The words she used bothered me. I told her I did not want to teach impressionable 12-year olds that they were in for a “war” of oppression, and that their lives would be a “struggle”. I told her that the violent words she used offended me, that I was sensitive to them.

She took great offense to this. “Now I can’t even say the word ‘fight’?” I told her yes, if she wanted me to stay on the program, we’d have to find other ways of expressing this concept. She told me either I was on the bus or off the bus. I got off the bus.

3. My little brother lived with me for a short time. We had been close growing up, but in our adult lives had drifted. I had asked about the bottle of soda in the fridge. “I killed it,” he replied. What? “I killed it,” he repeated, as if he was instructing his big sis on the hip expressions of the day. How do you “kill” a soda bottle? I was perplexed that this was what the young kids were saying.

4. John McClaughry very recently published an anonymous quote in the Ethan Allen Institute’s newsletter stating, “I also haven’t killed anyone YET, but I am thinking of James Moore as a candidate” (Click on this link for context). It’s like putting Moore in the cross hairs. He lives around the corner from me. Who’s next? McClaughry shrugged it off as a joke and has yet to apologize for publishing such a threat. In these times…

Conversely, on MLK Day, many of my FB contacts posted his quotes, advocated non-violence, and otherwise said “Happy MLK Day”, as if there is such a thing. The man was shot in public for his difference of opinion. Nothing happy about this. Perhaps he’d have expired already, having lived to his natural age. It’s little comfort, given that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had sacrificed so much for his mission, and had, at his time of death, still so much to accomplish. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was often referenced, though what was published was an excerpt of the full paper. In rereading it, I was again impressed with King’s supreme love for his fellow neighbor, his intellect and reasoning, and his dedication to his cause.  He seemed so flawed and desperate.

What we do, how we live, right down to what we say, has impact. Whatever our most perfect of ideals: to kill those against us, or patiently wait for the wheels to justice to turn, the messengers themselves are only human. We live, we die, we kill, we love.

[Fountain, photo by Daniel W. Barlow]

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