Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Nonviolent Response

In Quakerism 101 we were talking about the different Testimonies that the Quakers hold dear:

Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality

This led into an activity dealing with violence. There were four quadrants:
Violent/Not OK
Non-Violent/Not OK

The leader proposed a scenario, and we were to stand in the quadrant that corresponded with the situation.

1. You shoot a duck during hunting season.
This one was split pretty evenly between Violent/OK and Violent/Not OK with a large number of fence sitters. The rational for the Not OK folks was that many of them didn't eat meat, so for them to shoot a duck would be just for sport.

One person saw this as a non-violent/OK act. He saw it as part of the circle of life. I disagreed with his position in that I see the circle of life as being naturally violent-- not maleveolently so, but nature is not a pacifist.
2. Someone is trying to mug you; you knock them down and run away.
I was surprised at the number of people who classified this as non-violent/OK. How is pushing someone down NOT a violent response? If asked to come up with a non-violent reaction to a mugging, knocking someone over wouldn't be tops on my list.

The majority was in the Violent/OK side. One lone voice said it was violent and not OK.
3. There is an armed burglar in your home. You shoot him in self-defense.
This nearly came to blows. People felt very passionately about where they stood and believed they needed to convert the other side to the correct way.

From the Violent/Okay side: I have four kids; he's threatening my family. I have no choice. It's him or me. He forced this on himself. It was in self defense.

From the Violent/Not OK side: What am I doing with a gun in the first place? What if I shoot one of my four kids accidentally? We told you you needed to spend more time at the shooting range! There is always a choice. Aren't all shootings "in self defense?"
4. Your neighbor has an army recruiting bumper sticker. You write "work for peace" on it in permanent marker.
Here I got very very irritated with the people who called this a Violent/Not OK act. Some of them were the same ones who saw pushing someone down as non-violent. WHAT? Writing something is more violent than knocking someone over?

Those of us on the correct side saw this as a non-violent, not OK act and tried in vain to pursuade the others that it wasn't a violent act, it was just very not OK. But they insisted it was violent. As is calling someone "stupid." As is verbal abuse.

There is gets kind of gray for me. I believe you can be verbally violent. But the written word just doesn't have the same wallop for me.


Blogger Sam Buchanan said...

A week later, I'm still taken aback by thinking that shooting someone is nonviolent! Maybe someone who reads this can explain how that would fail to fit within any reasonable definition of violence.

The exercise reminds me of the conscientious objector counseling that I went through in high school, which was arranged by Friends for a Nonviolent World. (I don't think that at the time I connected FNVW with the Quakers. Somehow the significance of Friends escaped me. :) The counselor asked about a series of scenarios, gently pushing me to explore the limits of my nonviolence. Would I use violence in self defense? Would I report if drafted? Would I participate in basic training? Would I fuel airplanes used to carry soldiers into armed combat? Would I prepare food for soldiers?

I mention this because on the face of it, activities like this one in your class can be irritating (I'm certainly still irritated, and I wasn't even there!) but in the end I find them valuable. Not only do you encounter different perspectives that you're forced to reckon with, which strengthens the community and your understanding of it, but it's also an opportunity to examine your own convictions. It's one thing to assert a commitment to nonviolence; it's obviously something else entirely to explore what that means.

5:49 AM  
Blogger fresca said...

Seems important to define one's terms before going too far in a discussion, or else it dissolves into misunderstanding.
WHAT does "violence" mean?
Can writing be violent? Under what circumstances?

9:55 AM  

Post a comment

<< Home