Our young lads came bolstering into their adoptive grandparents living room and immediately began to wrestle for the remote control. Without a moment’s hesitation Grandma responded, “Hey! No violence!” Both boys and their parents instantly froze. And then Grandma went on, “I want you boys to have fun, but in this home we will not tolerate any violence toward others.” It was a thought provoking moment and, as a person who grew up with two older brothers where there was a lot of ‘physical contact’, really gave me pause.
Violence is the topic du jour this week after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscar Ceremony last Sunday. From Hollywood to hometowns around the country there seems to be no shortage of opinions and perspective about Will Smith’s actions.
And whether you are so over this specific incidence or glued to social media to see what will be the next chapter in this saga, the reality is there is an opportunity in this moment to explore the presenting issue of violence.
Is violence ever acceptable? Is it appropriate when in defense of yourself or someone else? Is that defense only appropriate when there is real physical danger, the only time to respond in kind? Is violence only manifested physically or can words and other acts of intimidation be considered just as threatening?
In my experience violence happens any time a person or group has power over another and uses it in an intimidating manner. Which then begs the question how do those who feel threatened respond. While our visceral reaction may be to ‘come back swinging’ either literally or verbally, is that the best choice?
Monastic Thomas Keating wrote the following with respect to violence,
“This is also marvelously exemplified in Gandhi’s life and work. He never tried to win anything. He just tried to show love; and that’s what ahimsa [the Hindu principle of nonviolence out of respect for all living things] really means. It’s not just a negative. Nonviolence doesn’t capture its meaning. It means to show love tirelessly, no matter what happens. That’s the meaning of turning the other cheek [Matthew 5:39]. Once in a while you have to defend somebody, but it means you’re always willing to suffer first for the cause—that is to say, for communion with your enemies. If you overcome your enemies [through force and violence], you’ve failed. If you make your enemies your partners, God has succeeded.”
Unfortunately, violence in all forms, is far too prevalent in our world. Too many resort to violence as a first response. And often for what in the big picture are very benign situations. We also know that violence often begets violence. That we can quickly move to a primal reaction, that we need to meet violence with violence. And while there are very few life saving or ending greater harm situations, the reality is ‘might does not make right’. As the fundamental principle of nonviolence promotes, we cannot achieve good by doing bad.