Monday, May 25, 2015

Presumptive Answer

A few months ago a friend posted a video of a little experiment.  In the midst of nonviolent protests against the police shooting of I-don't-remember-who, an activist was given some police training on using a gun and then put in four volatile situations. It's been a while since I've seen the video, but I believe in three of the four scenarios, the activist pulled out the gun. An officer was put in the same scenarios and reacted similarly.  The message seemed to be, "SEE! The activist would have used the gun, too! It's the only choice!"

The video left me unsettled, with more questions than answers:

Had the activist ever been trained in nonviolence?
Had the training from police included de-escalation tactics or only use of the gun?
If training only involved gun usage, did the activist realistically have any options besides pulling out the gun?
What about the officer?
How much training did he have in de-escalation tactics?
What if either one of them had some intense training in nonviolence? What would the scenes have looked like then?

What if the presumptive answer to violence were not more violence?

It seems very clear that all too often, violence is the presumptive answer.  It is most often the answer to violence. It is too often the answer to nonviolence, to truth-telling, to radical, inclusive, status quo-challenging love (think MLK, Jr., Gandhi, Oscar Romero...Jesus). It is sometimes the answer to just-in-case (preemptive).

And so I enter into this Memorial Day with mixed feelings. I am mindful of all those who have lost their lives fighting in wars. I mourn their deaths. I am mindful of those soldiers who took their own lives because war, even when they were no longer fighting had leached pain - physical, psychological, spiritual - so deep into their bones that it was simply too much to bear. I mourn their deaths. We, our government, continue to fail too many of our veterans, men and women willing to give their lives for our country, who need help returning to some sense of normalcy. I mourn the lack of regard for their well-being once they are home. I am mindful of the civilians who have died in war, who receive no special recognition, but whose memory no doubt lives on in the hearts of loved ones, casualties that never should have been. I mourn their deaths. I am mindful of those who have lost their lives in nonviolent struggles, who are not remembered on any particular day because they were willing to give their lives, but not to kill. I mourn them, too.

Today I am aware that with our remembrances, no one is shouting, "NEVER AGAIN!" We are not saying it. We are not whispering it. Because no one, as far as I can tell, believes that Never Again exists. The presumptive answer is more wars. The presumptive answer is more fighting, more pain, more dismemberment and destruction. Violence, violence, violence is the answer.

You cannot simultaneously prepare for war and plan for peace.  - Albert Einstein

 My presumptive answer is not violence. I don't believe it is going to bring the world to peace. In fact, the very notion that somehow peace would blossom from violence is absurd.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction ... The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. - Martin Luther, King, Jr. 

My presumptive answer includes the affirmation of life, not its destruction. It includes treating people the way we want to be treated, with respect and a clear indication that we believe in their goodness, even if that's not on display at the moment (isn't that what we want for ourselves?). My answer includes making sure people have their basic needs met, even if they don't "deserve" it (whatever that means). My answer includes the knowledge that desperation is a powerful motivator and that people will choose violence if they don't know any other answerMy answer includes the knowledge that while I choose nonviolence, I am as capable as anyone else of violence. Knowing that I have that same capacity, I know I need to work hard to be nonviolent in thought, word, and action. I fail and fail and fail in the first two. Nonviolence takes a lot of work. It is slow work. But it bears fruit in a way that violence never does. I have seen it happen. Our world has seen it happen. In a world where violence is the presumptive answer, nonviolence does not guarantee safety, ease, or life (violence offers no such guarantees, either). It does come much closer than violence to guaranteeing that you can live with your actions at the end of the day.

My presumptive answer is not violence. It is love. Unadulterated, expansive love.

My wish, every year on this day, is that next year on this day there will be no new lives lost to war or after war. That we put our trust not in weapons and defense, but in people and our ability to live into our divine nature. That we plan for peace instead of preparing for war. That the presumptive answer becomes love.

With love in our hearts, let us remember the dead and let us say, for the sake of our children and all children, never again. 

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