Reflections on the Meaning of Peace

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the U.S. On Memorial Day each year, countless numbers of folks display their “American” flags, and they gather together at parades, picnics and other get-togethers in order to remember and honor the nation’s veterans who have passed on as the result of their service to our country and its mission of freedom and security. Generally speaking, our society instructs us that those veterans gave their lives in order to secure and spread the ideals of a peaceful democracy that we may live life free. Therefore, for the most part, many of us tend to think of ourselves as citizens of a rather benevolent nation, where values of living in peace and harmony prevail.

Yet, living in peace and harmony are virtues to which many of us aspire but few of us achieve. Instead, we engage much of our lives in competition and conflict. For example, when we are young, we often engage in sibling rivalry, and we begin to learn our exclusionary social tactics by grouping ourselves together in cliques at school. Additionally, we learn to compete with each other in our academics, in sports activities, and in our consumption patters – forever seeking to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ even when we are too young to know that this is what we are doing. We learn this competitive attitude and behavior when we are young, and we work to perfect it in order to “compete in the marketplace of America”, as political commentator Bill O’Reilly has so eloquently named our purpose and way of life (O’Reilly, n.d.). Our way of life, for the most part, then, consists of maintaining social exclusions, competition between individuals and between groups of people, and because of this, a great deal of social injustice results, and this leads to conflicts between people, not peace and harmony.

Personally, I have become tired and emotionally and spiritually drained from an ever increasingly competitive environment that is rife with social conflicts. Certainly, I tell myself again and again, there must be a better way. It was two years ago, when I decided to learn about ‘another way’ and decided to go to college in order to do so. It had occurred to me, at that time, that most of mainstream U.S. culture is built upon stories of competition, conflict and domination, as evidenced in our very profitable and rather violent entertainment and sports industries, for example. I wanted to learn about what I thought of at that time as the ‘hidden peace stories’ – those stories that did not have the exciting appeal of a conflict or combat (and therefore they gain little media attention) but are essential, to my way of thinking, of passing on cultural knowledge of how people can act in order to get along with one another in a peaceful and harmonious way.

At that time, it was my intention to engage in what I thought of as ‘Peace Studies’. When I told folks that it was my intention to learn ‘peace studies’ almost no one knew what I was talking about. I explained that what I had in mind was learning about interpersonal skills of conflict resolution, conflict transformation, conflict management, peace building, and peacekeeping. I did not know much about the field of Peace Studies, either. I discovered that only a few colleges and universities offer studies in peace. No wonder our ideas about peace and how to achieve it are sometimes rather ambiguous. This reinforced my idea that there was a great need for this sort of education, for both myself and for others.

Through my own research, I discovered that Peace Studies, as an academic discipline, began in the 1950’s in the aftermath of World War II. The focus at that time was on international wars and their prevention, but the field has been expanding in scope ever since it began. Currently, the approach to peace studies may take different paths depending on the lens with which the topic of peace is examined. Two common approaches include that of dealing with the politics of war and the effective means for its prevention, while another related method is concerned with the causes of social conflict and its effective management and/or resolution or transformation (What is Peace Studies, n.d.). There is a wide breadth concerning approaches to the academic field of peace studies and one’s approach may take place at the interpersonal, societal, or the international level, depending upon the focus one wishes to explore. I prefer approaching the topic of peace studies at the interpersonal level.

For certain, the concept of peace means different things to different folks. Perhaps the most common idea concerning peace is that it is a state of social harmony that is characterized by the absence of conflict, violence, or war. I used to think this way. This notion of peace is sometimes referred to as negative peace, as described by sociologist Johan Galtung, the founder of peace and conflict studies. Yet the components of negative peace are only a fraction of what peace is, because in order to achieve a sustainable state of social harmony, it is also necessary to address the reasons for social unrest that lead to conflict, violence and war.

It is important to understand that power and wealth disparity are major causes of societal unrest in the world, whether it is at the level of interpersonal relationships, larger group and community interactions, or increasingly (because of globalization) at the national and global level. Much of the power and wealth disparity that exists in the world is a result of social and economic systems that have been in place since the time of Western European wars and colonial expansion into other nations. These social and economic systems have resulted in systemic power and privilege imbalances, and are often described as racism, sexism, classism, ageism, nationalism, and many more ‘isms’, which are now deeply embedded into our society.

These unequal systems of power and privilege easily develop into systems of domination, resulting in indirect structural violence, where some groups of people are able to profit greatly while others are left in conditions of suffering and despair. Many times, these situations of unequal power and privilege erupt into physical violence, such as what took place during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the U.S. and more recently in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I now know that if the human race is to achieve living together in peace and harmony, we must not only eliminate physical violence, but we must promote what Galtung named positive peace, by working toward a greater degree of equality and social justice for all.

Social justice recognizes a shared humanity. It also values diversity. Social justice promotes a positive and sustainable peace, by ensuring that all people have access to food and clean drinking water, security from physical harm and psychological harm, education for all, including for women and children, and other inviolable human rights. Social justice demands the consideration of human rights for all, and it works to balance competing demands for “needs, desert, and equality within and between societies”while balancing between joint responsibilities of both societies and of individuals (What is Social Justice, n.d.). Social justice addresses concepts of fairness at the macro social level by making the systems and structures of society more equitable. Therefore, in order to achieve a sustainable and lasting peace in society, it is necessary to move from unjust social systems to more just social systems, and this requires social change.

Collective action and social movements describe two methods that can be used to intentionally encourage social change. Collective action takes place in groups and describes behaviors such as a protest marches, political rallies, and the signing of petitions, for example. Mahatma Gandhi used this type of direct confrontation to or noncooperation with oppression as he worked to gain independence from the control of Great Britain for the nation of India and he called this method satyagraha or obstructive program (n.d.). When this type of group activity is purposeful, organized, and institutionalized, collective action then becomes what is known as a social movement.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960s was also led by a nonviolent obstructive program strategy. Nonviolence embraces a core belief that it is fundamentally irrational to use violence to achieve a peaceful society, and additionally it asserts that just means must be used in order to achieve a just end. Furthermore, nonviolence is a method of achieving social change by encouraging respectful dialogue and negotiation as a means for problem solving. Finally, nonviolence is a method of intentionally bringing about social justice by working to create an awareness of people’s unmet needs, and also by creating new systems and structures designed to meet those needs.

Nonviolent systems and structures are types of constructive programs ( n.d.)that are designed to replace the current unjust arrangement. They might include those that meet basic needs such as food, clean water, clothing and shelter for all. They could possibly be concerned with environmental sustainability. They might provide education and healthcare for all. They could also encompass more just economic systems that provide needed jobs and fair wages. Programs that include cultural awareness can reduce intercultural conflict while promoting the value of and the sharing of cultural knowledge. They might embrace nonviolent communication, or alternative dispute resolution programs such as mediation and conflict resolution programs. Or they may be ‘new’ ways of thinking about and addressing ‘criminal justice’ and involve strategies of restorative justice and restorative practices as an alternative to retributive justice and incarceration. Programs that encompass teaching about trauma healing (including the transformation of historical harms) and forgiveness can increase psychological wellbeing. There are many ways in which one can approach working toward a more peaceful future. Non-violent methods of constructive program, because of their intention to meet human needs and promote a more just society, are methods that are perfectly suited to promote not only social change, but also more specifically, social justice and consequently, a lasting social peace.

Over time, my ideas concerning what the notion of peace is, have been evolving to compare with the ideologies of many indigenous cultures, and that of nonviolence, constructive program, and especially in developing language skills (because the way we conceptualize our world is closely connected to our use of language) in non-violent communication. To my way of thinking, we may be best able to achieve a greater degree of social justice, and therefore peace and harmony by gaining theoretical knowledge and practical skills in the field of non-violent social change. What is most important to me is the notion of positive peace – a peace that focuses on a greater degree of social equality and justice for all. Ultimately to me, peace involves ‘right relationships’ with the Earth and with one’s neighbors including even one’s ‘enemies’.

References:

Constructive Program. (n.d.). Metta center for nonviolence. Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/definitions/obstructive-program/

Obstructive Program. (n.d.). Metta center for nonviolence. Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/nonviolence/satyagraha/

O’Reilly on America’s Race Problem. (n.d.). CNS News. Retrieved from http://m.cnsnews.com/video/national/oreilly-americas-race-problem#.U4QILgIpOdI.facebook

What is Peace Studies? (n.d.). University of Louisville. Retrieved from http://louisville.edu/peace/academic-programs/peace-studies

What is Social Justice? (n.d.) Appalachian State University department of government and justice studies. Retrieved from http://gjs.appstate.edu/social-justice-and-human-rights/what-social-justice

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Advertisements

To Forgive or Not Forgive: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Malcolm X

One’s worldview shapes, to a large extent, how one might to choose to respond to situations of social injustice. That is to say, one’s historical background and culture influences how one may respond to injustice. Perhaps one might submit, or respond in an unforgiving retaliatory manner, or instead, animate a response aimed toward achieving social justice. In the U.S, during the time period of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s, two African-American leaders exhibited these different responses to injustice in their speech, in their writing, and in their style of social activism. These different ways of responding to injustice are perhaps related to these men’s different histories.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were two of the most prominent Civil Rights activists during the 1960s. They had a great deal in common. They were both African-Americans, sons of Baptist ministers, and they both worked to improve the lives of African-Americans by advocating for racial equality and freedom. From there, their similarities depart.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born to a “respected Baptist minister” and raised in a “prosperous but segregated neighborhood” where his “loving father taught him the value of hard work” and instilled in him “a strong faith in God (Ladenburg, n.d.).” For the most part, King was kept sheltered from racial discrimination ((Ladenburg, n.d.). He excelled in school, and went on to earn a PhD in theology (Ladenburg, n.d.). Comparatively speaking, King was privileged.

Malcolm X had very different life circumstances. He was born to a Baptist minister, an organizer for Marcus Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement, who was murdered it is believed, by White supremacists, when Malcolm was only six years of age (Ladenburg, n.d.). His mother was institutionalized a few years later, leaving Malcolm as an orphan to be raised in foster care (Malcolm X, n.d.). Malcolm “had known the traumas of a broken family and an incomplete and inferior formal education” and he “spent his early youth not at theological college but on the streets” finally landing in prison for burglary (Ling, 1993.).” There he learned of Elijah Muhammad’s Civil Rights message (Ling, 1993.).

In June of 1963, Malcolm X, now out of prison and a leading spokesman of Elijah Mohammad’s Nation of Islam, gave a speech titled, The Black Revolution (n.d.). In this speech he asserted that Dr. King’s approach to racial inequality was not an effective approach to the problems faced by the majority of People of Color. He advocated, instead, for a revolution where “so-called Negros” would live separate lives in a land away from the “White devils” as he called them (The Black Revolution, n.d.). Malcolm X did not believe that forgiveness and reconciliation between the races was possible.

The approach that Malcolm X used was much like what Thomas Paine used in his propaganda speech, Common Sense (n.d.). Paine advocated for revolt in order for the American colonies to achieve their independence from the British Crown. Some of Malcolm X’s tactics were to ‘dehumanize the enemy’ by naming them “goats” and “wolves” and “devils (The Black Revolution, n.d.).” He named the revolution that he envisioned as “part of God’s plan (The Black Revolution, n.d.).” He provided snippets of Bible quotes (without reference to their historical or cultural significance) as ‘proof’ to his claims of divine inspiration. His goal was to stir emotions and to incite his followers into action, perhaps even violent action, as the means of achieving separation away from the domination of those in power.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach to addressing prejudice and racism was quite different. King was an advocate of a specific type of social change, that which is known as nonviolence. Nonviolence is a rough translation of the term satyagraha, the method which Gandhi successfully used to obtain India’s independence from the rule of Great Britain in the year 1947 (Nonviolence Introduction, n.d.). This method involves such methods as ‘constructive proramme’, which is the building of more just structures and systems to replace the unjust ones. Additionally, activists might engage in tactics that could embarrass their opponent into better actions. Furthermore, unlike a violent revolution, nonviolence also involves attempting to build positive relationship with the oppressor. Gandhi believed that a dedicated adherent to satyagraha (or nonviolence), “who worked to uphold a just cause will inevitably reach the heart of the oppressor by taking authentic action to represent truth (Satyagraha, n.d.).” Gandhi’s method was effective in gaining independence for India. Dr. King was using this very same approach to advance social change in the U.S.

This method of nonviolent social change mirrors the principles discussed by theologian Walter Wink in his book, The Powers that Be (1998). In this book, Wink described common responses to injustice as either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ responses. He asserted that Jesus’ parables taught a third way to achieve social change that was neither to fight nor to flee. This was what Wink also called nonviolence. According to Wink, nonviolence includes such actions as seizing the moral initiative, finding creative alternatives to violence, asserting one’s own humanity and dignity as a person, refusing to submit or accept an inferior position, exposing the injustice of the system, and shaming the oppressor into repentance (Jesus Third Way, n.d.). In The Powers that Be, Wink walked his readers through the parables, providing historical and cultural context in order to bring to life those not-often-understood messages. King understood Biblical messages in much the very same way that Wink did.

King, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail (n.d.), noted his “constructive work” referring to it as a “nonviolent direct-action program.” He said that it was his intention to stand between the two current options of complacency and hatred with a “more excellent way, of love and nonviolent protest (Letters from Birmingham Jail, n.d.).” By this, he meant that he wanted to pull the disparate communities together – the White community and the community of People of Color, plus the community that was complacent and the community that wanted to fight. He recognized the “interrelatedness of all communities and states” which were “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality (Letters from Birmingham Jail, n.d.).” It was his goal to repair the broken relationships for the benefit of all.

To do this, he seized the moral initiative by calling out and naming bad actions. He looked for creative alternatives by calling for people to “look at underlying causes” of injustice (Letters from Birmingham, n.d.). He exposed the injustice of the system by naming unjust laws and calling attention to a discriminating police force. Furthermore, he wrote that he was disappointed with White church complacency in racial matters with the goal of shaming the oppressor into repentance (Letters from Birmingham, n.d.). King was teaching people how to assert one’s own humanity and dignity as a person by refusing to submit or accept an inferior position.

King would not resort to destructive violence because in doing so, he knew that would precipitate further violence, thereby making peace and justice even less likely. Therefore, he maintained a goal of building community through reconciliation instead.

As a biblical scholar, King had spent as many years studying the Bible as Malcolm X had spent in prison (Ling, 1993.). This difference in life experience had a profound effect on these two men’s different interpretations of Biblical passages, and likewise their different approach in working to advance social change. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. used a peaceful approach while Malcolm X used angry hate-filled rhetoric in a separatist approach. These approaches were different because of these men’s different ways of understanding their world. When Malcolm X travelled to Mecca, he saw ‘the races’ mixing in community in a positive way and this was a new experience for Malcolm X and it gave him hope (MalcolmX.com, n.d.). When he returned to the United States, he began to work with King, instead of rallying against nonviolent methods.

These very different life experiences – one of relative privilege, and the other of relative disadvantage, influenced how these two men responded to social injustice. King, who was highly educated and privileged and had resources of social and cultural capital, wanted to maintain and improve relationship with his oppressors. Malcolm X, with little education and little cultural and social capital, also leaned on his own knowledge – and that was the knowledge that White people were prejudiced oppressors of People of Color. Because Malcolm X received very little benefit from the current system, he wanted to begin a revolution to separate from his oppressors. King seemed to be more forgiving of his oppressors than Malcolm X. This is perhaps because King, as a highly educated man, received a much larger benefit from the systems that were in place, than did Malcolm X. Malcolm X’s apparent initial position of ‘un-forgiveness’ was perhaps a response to receiving very little gain from the unjust system, and little hope that he ever would.

In the example of the lives these two great leaders of the U.S. 1960’s Civil Rights movement, it is clear to see how one’s worldview shapes how one may respond to injustice. One’s individual and collective history and one’s culture shapes one’s decisions. Additionally, different life experiences, including one’s position of privilege or disadvantage may influence how a person might respond to social injustice. In the event of oppression, poverty, and lack of education, and reason for little hope, it is likely that the result may be complacency and acceptance or else a position of un-forgiveness characterized by anger, hatred and a desire for a violent revolution. If instead, hope is present, and leadership is grounded in an education of effective nonviolent principles and methods, change may take place without need for revolt or violence.

References:

Ladenburg, T. (n.d.). 1960’s chapter 6: Martin luther king & malcolm X on violence and integration. Digital history: Using new technologies to enhance teaching and research [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/teachers/lesson_plans/pdfs/unit11_6.pdf

Jesus Third Way by Walter Wink. (n.d.). Jesus third way by walter wink. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.cpt.org/files/BN%20-%20Jesus’%20Third%20Way.pdf

King, M. L. (n.d.). Letter from birmingham jail. The atlantic monthly [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/king.pdf

Ling, P. (1993). More Malcolm’s year than Martin’s. History Today, 43(4), 13.

Malcolm X (1925-1965). (n.d.). Malcolm X (1925-1965). [Web page] Retrieved from http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_malcolm_x_1925_1965

MalcolmX.com. (n.d.). MalcolmX.Com. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.malcolmx.com/about/bio.html

Nonviolence introduction. (n.d.) The metta center for nonviolence [Web page]. Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/nonviolence/introduction

Paine, T. (n.d.). Common sense. The writings of Thomas Paine. Retrieved from Google: http://www.calhum.org/files/uploads/program_related/TD-Thomas-Paine-Common-Sense.pdf

Satyagraha. (n.d.). Satyagraha. [Web page] Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/definitions/gloss-concepts/satyagraha

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Exploration of Forgiveness in the Performing Arts

Artistic creations can be a means for the exploration of human attitudes, feelings and behaviors.  The performing arts are an example of an artistic media that can be utilized in this way.  For example, the use of theatre and film can be applied as method to explore some of the human attitudes, feelings and behaviors that are related to the topics of hatred, anger, tolerance, acceptance, as well as forgiveness.  Two such performing arts examples are The Laramie Project and Shakespeare as presented in the Secured Housing Unit (SHU) at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF), a super-maximum security prison located in the state of Indiana.  These productions offer their creators and audiences alike, the opportunity to examine the attitudes, feelings and actions concerning how people relate to one another.  They also offer an opportunity for people to understand themselves better, as well.

The Laramie Project, developed by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company, consists of both a theatrical representation and an HBO film based on the actual 1998 murder of twenty-one year old University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard.  On October 6th, 1998, Mr. Shepard was bound to a fence and severely beaten and left to die in the outskirts of the small town of Laramie, Wyoming.  He passed away as a result of the injuries he sustained six days later.  This was a hate crime, since Matthew was targeted because he was gay.  The Laramie Project originated when members of The Tectonic Theatre Company went to Laramie in order to interview the residents concerning the circumstances surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, as well as their reaction to this incident.  Their purpose was to create a production pertaining to these events.

Shakespeare, as presented in the SHU at the WVCF, was born out of a prison outreach project that was developed by Associate Professor of English at Indiana State University, Dr. Laura Bates.  Dr. Bates offered prison inmates the opportunity to study Shakespeare.  She worked with men in solitary confinement as they rewrote the Shakespearian language to “contemporary prose” and the plays’ themes into “life lessons for the convicted and incarcerated” (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.).  Then, Bates’ drama group, Shakespeare Locked Down, performed and videotaped the production, and in turn, they shared their performances of the adaptations with the men in the SHU at WVCF (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.).  This opportunity offered the men in solitary confinement a way to meet their human need for community and companionship.  It provided that and much more.

These productions offered their creators and viewers alike a unique opportunity to learn about human attitudes, feelings and behaviors in relation to the themes of injury and forgiveness.  These themes can be seen in scenes from each production.  For example, in the HBO version of The Laramie Project (n.d), there is an especially emotional moment in the scene of the sentencing of Matthew’s murderer, Aaron McKinney, where one can see a process of forgiveness beginning to take shape.  Likewise, the SHU Shakespearian writers display a similar movement from a negative attitude toward one more positive, as they fashion a new nonviolent conclusion for Hamlet. These scenes present the performers in different stages along a continuum of possible attitudes, feelings and actions, ranging from the extreme emotions of anger, hatred and the desire for revenge and retribution, moving toward positions of greater tolerance and acceptance.

In a scene from The Laramie Project (n.d.), Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard, feeling a great deal of pain and anger, expressed words of hatred along with a desire for revenge, even as he was generously accepting the plea bargain that the defense lawyer requested on McKinney’s behalf.  Dennis Shepard said in his ‘impact statement’ at the sentencing, “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. Mckinney” while at the same time he was offering McKinney life instead of the death penalty.  He continued, “However, this is the time to begin the healing process” . . . “you made the world realize that a person’s lifestyle is not a reason for discrimination, intolerance, persecution, and violence” and “good is coming out of evil . . . My son died because of your ignorance and intolerance.  I can’t bring him back.  But I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again.”  Wavering back and forth from a desire for healing to feelings of anger, he followed with,  “You robbed me of something very precious, and I will never forgive you for that.”  Although Dennis Shepard struggled with feelings of anger and hatred, he was beginning the process of healing.

Regarding the SHU Shakespearian production, the writers decided to modify the ending scenes for their adaptation of Hamlet.  The men in the SHU determined that Hamlet, when faced with the option to seek revenge or not, must choose the latter because they acknowledged that acting with vengeance could only result in more violence, his death or else his imprisonment.  The man in Cell E explained that, ‘Shakespeare doesn’t offer an alternative to the violence.  Is this the message we’re trying to send society, particularly the youth? No’ (Scott-Douglass, 2007 p. 113.).  The writers determined that Hamlet would present a speech explaining an alternative approach, ‘I don’t want to become what my father was. I don’t want to become what your father was. We’ve got to break this cycle, man, the two of us, right here and right now’ (Scott-Douglass, 2007 p. 113.).  The men in the SHU rewrote Hamlet in such a way as to send a message, in order to teach the world an alternative to retaliation.  This was a method for nonviolent social change.  In this way, the men in the SHU became some of ‘our most valuable teachers’[1].

Each production offered a unique lens with which one can observe the topics of hatred, anger, tolerance and acceptance.  The Tectonic Theatre Company explored the attitudes, feelings and behaviors of the people who witnessed a violent hate crime.  While in contrast, the men in the SHU considered their own role as violent offenders as they recreated Shakespearian dramas.  Each work, in its own way, led its creators to produce an outcome that would illustrate for the world an alternative response to violence that would work for a greater good.

Each of these scenes led their audience to consider the cycles of violence that are perpetuated in attitudes of anger, hatred, and revenge.  In the scene from The Laramie Project, Dennis Shepard spoke of attitudes, feelings and actions that were at odds with one another.  On the one hand, he desired revenge against his son’s killer, while on the other hand he desired an outcome for a greater good.  Dennis Shepard verbalized what social ‘norms’ kept silent.

In a similar fashion, the SHU’s Shakespearian project also created a space, that otherwise did not exist, for contemplation and dialog.  The men in the SHU experienced, first hand, the costs of violence and retribution.  They had learned from their own experiences that there is a better way.  They wanted to share their wisdom with others.  In order to do so, they rewrote the storyline of Hamlet so that it would teach its audience a different approach when confronted with conflict.

Both Shakespeare as portrayed in the SHU of WVCF, and The Tectonic Theatre Company’s production, The Laramie Project, have allowed their creators and audiences alike a space and an opportunity to discuss what was otherwise normally kept silent.  In this way, they have learned, and by this they are also now teaching, that there is a way out of the chaos that is left in the aftermath of violent actions and brutality.

Perhaps it is difficult to understand a response of kindness toward a violent transgressor, such as that which Dennis Shepard offered to his son’s killers.  To some, this type of attitude might not seem likely or even healthy.  Yet, there is scientific evidence that suggests that humans have been endowed with a “forgiveness instinct” that makes forgiveness possible and even desirable in such circumstances (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).  A ‘forgiveness instinct’ acknowledges that one’s own protection and safety happens in loving community.  Therefore a response to transgression that is likely to build and maintain loving community is the preferred action.

Dennis Shepard understood this concept when he said, “I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again” (The Laramie Project, n.d.).  The Tectonic Theatre Company understood it too, as evidenced when Amanda Gronich, one of its gay members, acknowledged that they might not be able to clear the town’s bad name.  “These people trust us. They want everyone to know that they are not this crime.  Its more than just clearing Laramie’s name, it is clearing their own, and I don’t know if we can do that” (The Laramie Project, n.d.).  Dennis Shepard, and the members of the Tectonic Theatre Company acted with forgiveness toward people’s violent attitudes and actions as they simultaneously exposed the unwanted attitudes and behavior and held the perpetrators accountable.

The men in WVCF’s SHU acted in a similar way.  They discovered, through the performances that they created, that violence is cultivated in a society, by people’s attitudes, feelings and actions.  Violence was all around them in their upbringing.  There was violence at WVCF too.  It was a social norm that one act of violence was returned with another act of violence.  When they studied the Shakespearian dramas, they discovered that it was an attitude that was the ‘seed of violence’[2].  Therefore, they set themselves to cultivate a positive and peaceful attitude and actions when they changed Hamlet’s conclusion.  In this way, they have called attention to the prevalence of a violent attitude in society that shapes how its members respond to one another, and they simultaneously demonstrated a preferred nonviolent way.

The performing arts, such as theater and film, have the ability to impact our perceptions.  They can be used to create a space for people to be able to observe areas of their lives that they might not otherwise wish to examine.  When one does make space for the exploration of the violent attitudes, feelings and behaviors of others, they may learn about their own violent tendencies, too.  Likewise, through the examination of the ‘self’ it is possible to learn about ‘others’.  When seeing with a resulting more expansive view, people may gain a greater degree of compassion for both themselves and others.  The performing arts are a medium that often exploits violent themes.  Yet through thoughtful and intentional productions, the performing arts may nurture and cultivate a culture that values an alternative peace-promoting response.

References:

Scott-Douglass, A. (2007). Shakespeare Inside: The Bard Behind Bars. Bloomsbury Publishing.

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/forgiveness_instinct

The Laramie Project. (n.d.). [Audiovisual Material]. (Original work published 2002) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1qiTmF0p4


[1] Father Roger Schmit, the Catholic Priest in The Laramie Project (n.d.), used this phrase when describing the violent offenders, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, as ‘our most important teachers’.

[2] Referencing, again, Father Roger Schmit, the Catholic Priest in The Laramie Project (n.d.), when he used this phrase in describing Laramie community members’ negative attitudes and language against members of the LGBTQ community as, ‘the seed of violence’.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Examining the Amish Forgiveness Response to the Nickel Mines Tragedy

I have always had interest in learning about Amish folks, including their lifestyle and their beliefs, ever since I had originally learned of these people. I was intrigued by their different way of being in this world. Therefore, I had previously taken the time to learn a little bit about their history, and their way of life even before I had learned of the tragic shooting that took place on October 2, 2006 at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where six people lost their lives and five others were critically injured.

I knew that the Amish people have a heritage of persecution, and I knew also that they are a peace-loving people. The Amish tradition is descendant from the Anabaptist Christian radicals and dissenters of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation period (Who Are The Mennonites, n.d.). They are one of the ‘peace churches’. The Amish broke away from the Mennonite Church (one of the Anabaptist traditions) because they believed that the Mennonites were becoming too ‘worldly’. One of the Anabaptist faith’s key spiritual beliefs is “a forgiving love in all of life (Who Are The Mennonites, n.d.).” Amish faith tradition is based on these same spiritual beliefs of love and forgiveness that their brothers and sisters, the Mennonites, practice.

The immediate forgiveness response of the Amish people, to the tragic happenings on that Autumn day, are a testament to their deep belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ, such that followers of the Christ are to live their lives following his way of peace. The teachings of Jesus the Christ (the Christ is to be understood as ‘the way’) are that of nonresistance , distinct from nonviolent social change, somewhat like, yet different from, the method Mahatma Gandhi used when he led the movement to gain India’s independence from the rule of Great Britain (Kraybill, 2006.). The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy is their testament to Jesus’ teachings, and as such, their generosity toward the family of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the shooter, was not surprising to me.

The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy was that they reached out to the family of Mr. Roberts and immediately offered their condolences, forgiveness, assistance, and even began building community with the family (Kraybill, 2006). Jesus the Christ established a loving and forgiving example for peace-loving children of God to imitate in their own lives, and this is what shaped the response of the Amish people (Kraybill, 2006). This other way of responding to transgression is different from a typically individualistic and western worldview response to transgression, that of retaliation and/or retribution.

Perhaps this other way of responding to transgression is difficult to understand for many of us. In the book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kraybill, Nolt, & Weaver-Zercher, 2010) the authors quote the father of a slain Amish girl as saying, “There was never a time that I felt angry.” From a non-Anabaptist perspective, this type of forgiving attitude might not seem possible or even healthy. Yet, there is scientific evidence that perhaps “natural selection has endowed the human mind with a ‘forgiveness instinct’ (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).”

A forgiveness instinct may be thought of as “an adaptive solution to problems” in
environments where people are highly dependent on complex networks of cooperative relationships, policing is reliable, the system of justice is efficient and trustworthy, and social institutions are up to the task of helping truly contrite offenders make amends with the people they’ve harmed (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).

A ‘forgiveness instinct’ then, understands that one’s own protection and safety happens in loving community, and it responds to transgression in a way that is likely to build and maintain loving community, even in the expression of violence. Perhaps anger and resentment (those feelings that would fuel retaliation and retribution) are not always the natural human response. Sometimes, it can be understood, that experiencing sadness (without an accompanying anger) and working toward the reconciliation of broken relationships will serve human needs in a much more fruitful way, than could attitudes and actions that might stimulate continued violence.

Knowledge in alternative ways to respond to harm can shape how one responds in such situations. The Amish learn their forgiveness response (‘instinct’) culturally, through their religious teachings and through their family traditions (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.). Their response to transgressions is not dependent on others’ actions, such as receiving an apology. In the circumstance of the Nickel Mines tragedy, the Amish acted quickly, reaching out to offer love, forgiveness and a way to heal, where such actions were neither expected nor sought. In these actions, the Amish have been a living testament of the way to peace, as their spiritual tradition has taught them. By their living testament to their faith, the Amish are also teaching how one can ‘do peace’ to ‘the world’.

The Amish testament of faith in loving kindness is a type of living memorial to the life, death and teachings of Jesus Christ. In the Huffington Post, September 30, 2011 article, Amish Memorials: The Nickel Mines Pasture and Quiet Forgiveness, author Donald Kraybill (n.d.) stated, “Memorials reveal the deep values of the people that create them.” Memorials are symbols, and their meanings, or rather how one thinks of memorials and monuments, determines whether they may be beneficial or harmful. To state this in another way, perhaps it is one’s worldview that determines one’s interpretation of, and therefore the principles expressed, though the creation of a memorial.

In some circumstances, memorials and monuments may be used as a way to ‘never forget’ and in this they may act to perpetuate anger and even justify retribution and retaliation. For example, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, NY is designed to help us to ‘never forget’ concerning the 9/11 tragedy that took place there in 2001. It is clear that the expression of remembrance by this memorial is that of great loss and anger. According to the official 9/11 Memorial website,

The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools, a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history (9/11 Memorial, n.d.).

We can think of and relate this sort of memorial to the angry actions to the Muslim community that continue to take place as a violent retaliatory response to the 9/11 tragedy. In this way, the reminder (the memorial or monument) may be harmful as it may perpetuate pain, anger and even violence, as a way of ‘honoring’ lost loved ones.

Yet, there are some types of memorials that do not act to perpetuate pain, anger and violence, but instead act to heal and reconcile broken relationships. An example of a healing response to the 9/11 tragedy is a particular Mennonite response. In order to commemorate the lives lost that tragic day, they offer the story of STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11, n.d.). This is a “training program, born from the ashes of 9/11”, that is currently being used as a healing model around the world (STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11, n.d.). This response, that these Mennonites have created as a different type of memorial, offer healing to those harmed on that fateful day, and it also offers healing to a larger world community in a way that can create a world with a greater degree of healing, reconciliation, and world peace, in addition to remembering lost loved ones.

Another type of memorial that was created in order to intentionally bring about goodness as a response to tragic events is another Amish living memorial. The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy was to tear down the hurtful reminder of the schoolhouse and turn that place back into a pasture (Kraybill, n.d.). They built a different type of remembrance by planting five evergreens there (a living testimony to their five lost loves ones). These trees’ branches reach toward heaven as a way to continually remind their community of the loving and forgiving response that Jesus demonstrated as an example for peace-loving Christians to imitate (Kraybill, n.d.). These five trees remind the community that the forgiving, healing, reconciling response is the response of goodness in the face of wickedness as they remember their loved ones. The Amish living tree memorial is also one that offers the entire world a reminder that there is a way to create peace out of chaos.

The forgiving, healing, peaceful response to transgression creates a space for healing, growth and the reconciling of broken relationships. This worldview is generative, not destructive. The ‘world’ was astonished by the Amish’s immediate actions of forgiveness and reconciliation with the Roberts family. They were able to do this because they were able to recognize a larger perspective than simply their own. They could see that the Roberts family must also be experiencing pain and suffering. They could see that the mainstream culture is also experiencing pain and suffering as it was demonstrated by the violent actions of Mr. Roberts. The Amish loving, forgiving and peaceful actions (even as their hearts ache) puts a stop on the violent reactions that can take place in the aftermath of such a terrible event. As a result of the loving, forgiving, healing, peaceful actions of the Amish, the ‘world’ has become much more interested in learning to live in this way.

References:

9/11 Memorial. (n.d.). 9/11 memorial. [Web page] Retrieved from https://www.911memorial.org/about-memorial

Hershberger, Guy F. (1957). Nonviolence. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 January 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nonviolence&oldid=103288.

Kraybill, D. B. (2006). Forgiveness clause. Christian Century, 123(22), 8-9.

Kraybill, D. (n.d.). Amish memorials: The Nickel Mines pasture and quiet forgiveness. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donald-kraybill/amish-memorials-the-nickel-mines-memorial_b_982144.htm

Kraybill, D. (n.d.). Why the Amish forgave so quickly. The Christian science monitor [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1002/p09s02-coop.htm

Kraybill, D. B., Nolt, S. M., & Weaver-Zercher, D. L. (2010). Amish grace: How forgiveness transcended tragedy. John Wiley & Sons.

STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11. (n.d.). STAR: The unfolding story, 2001-’11. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.emu.edu/cjp/star/sept-11th-commemorative-book

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/forgiveness_instinct

Who Are the Mennonites? (n.d.). Who are the Mennonites? [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.thirdway.com/menno/FAQ.asp?F_ID=2

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Silence: A Form of Violence

Silence is a form of linguistic violence. The violence is apparent in what is communicated by the lack of speaking. Or as illustrated in the circumstances of this 18 February Climate Change news report, linguistic violence may present itself as the veiling or suppression of the truth. Purposefully influencing what may or may not be said can be a means for “the powerful alteration of reality”, which is a type of coercion and a form of violence, even when on the surface silence may seem rather benign (Apressyan, 1998). Therefore violent language does not even need to be heard in order to be violent.

Here is an excerpt of the report:
Joyce Labrecque, Andy, Jeri Labrecque, Marc Labrecque, Daniel Labrecque, Luc Labrecque, Richard Labrecque, Robert Labreque, Karla Labrecque, Jules Labrecque, Simone Labrecque, Donald Labrecque, Erin Labrecque and Thera Breau. Published with permission of Karla and Alain Labrecque. Erin Steele/Peace River Record-Gazette/

Meet The Family The Tar Sands Industry Wants To Keep Quiet

BY EMILY ATKIN ON FEBRUARY 18, 2014 AT 11:50 AM

Meet The Family The Tar Sands Industry Wants To Keep Quiet

There is an abandoned house in Alberta, Canada, where Alain Labrecque used to live. Tucked in the farming community of Peace River, it is a place brimming with personal history, rooted to his grandfather’s land where his parents and eight aunts and uncles grew up, and where Alain’s own children were born. Now, Alain’s property and the surrounding area are primarily home to large, black cylinders of oil.

The oil is from Alberta’s much-famed tar sands, a large area of land that contains clay, bitumen, and a good deal of sand. Inside the tanks, heavy crude from the sands is heated, until it becomes viscous enough to transport. Many of those tanks currently vent freely into the atmosphere.

As the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world and the key ingredient of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and with production value that is expected to nearly triple by 2018, the Canadian tar sands have become an unseen symbol in America. For some, that symbol represents jobs, energy security, and economic prosperity. For others, it’s pollution, addiction to fossil fuels, and a threat to a livable climate. What generally is not conveyed, however, is an image of the families who live there, and who have been there long before the tar sands boom.

Continue reading Climate Progress News Article here.   

References:

Apressyan, R. G. (1998). Violent speech. Peace Review, 10(4), 587.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Framing Our Perceptions

When I became a mother, how I perceived the whole world changed.  Before that time, I was influenced much as ‘mainstream U.S. culture’ is influenced:  By the media.  I was a typical consumer.  I had notions that what I should do with my life was to work hard to ‘get ahead’ and work hard – play hard.  I lived my life for me, never questioning whom it was that I was trying to get ahead of, or whom it was that I was leaving behind.  Additionally, I did not realize that another way of perceiving my lifestyle was thinking of it as one of over-consumption.  My way of thinking changed as a result of my decision to homeschool my children.

At the time that we decided to be a homeschooling family, my husband, Bill, and I, decided to lighten our work schedules to make time for teaching.  Because of our then limited income, we determined that we would become a little less wasteful, a little more resourceful, and a lot more self-sufficient.  My new reading genres included topics such as thrift, frugality and homesteading.  This lifestyle of teaching our children also led me to my own new learning adventure, including learning a new way of life – a more-with-less lifestyle.

I discovered the more-with-less ideology from a cookbook, The More with Less Cookbook (1976), by Doris Janzen Longacre.  This cookbook contained simple recipes and suggestions on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources.  I also read its companion book, Living More with Less (1980), also by Doris Janzen Longacre.  This book offered its readers a pattern for living with less and a wealth of suggestions for simple, sustainable, sane and healthy living.  These books taught me ‘another way’ to frame my thinking.  They opened my eyes, transformed my worldview, my value systems, and my way of life.  This other way is a way of consuming less of the world’s limited resources while at the same time living life more.  The more-with-less books, by Doris Janzen Longacre are about food, consumption, and social justice.  I’ve come to think of the more-with-less concept as a way of creating a world of greater social justice, or rather different way of thinking about getting our ‘just desserts’.

In retrospect, I can see that the dominant culture’s influence had a major impact on my youth, including my opinions, decisions, and actions.  Yet, at that time, I did not recognize that fact.  I lacked knowledge concerning the social realities of ‘others’, and especially of others in what we, in the western world, now label ‘developing countries’.  I did not have a very good understanding of my own situation of extreme privilege in relation to worldwide realities.  It was not until I had a need to learn another way of living for my own personal wellbeing that I became conscious of how little I knew.  I can see now that my knowledge was especially lacking concerning other ways of thinking related to resource scarcity and how people choose to relate to one another, and how they think of personal wellbeing.

In my youth, during the Reagan years, I bought into the political propaganda of that time.  Many people (including myself) loved him for his trickle-down economic policy, which became known as “Reaganomics”.  Reaganomics, by decreasing tax rates, also increased the wealth of the wealthy and it also increased the consumption ability of the not so wealthy.  This increased ability to consume felt like increased wellbeing to me.  Businesses loved Reagan because he deregulated industry.  This helped to keep prices low, and also created notions of wellbeing that I bought into.  His stand against the U.S.S.R., and all things communist, provided the country with an opposition and therefore also a patriotism to root for.  This felt good to me, too.  While Ronald Reagan was president, it seemed that economy prospered and it felt as though I was prospering, too.  I now know that although the country enjoyed high employment rates, and a rather prosperous few years, Reagan also made a lot of decisions that were detrimental in the long term.  In reality, national debt increased, and this is what allowed for the impression of prosperity.  His actions against the air traffic controllers strike acted to dismantle the power of organized labor.  The deregulation of many industries helped business prosper, but at the cost of the environment. His escalation of the Cold War against the U.S.S.R. helped to increase the number of nuclear weapons on the planet.  His new laws for drug offenses increased incarceration rates and the racial disparities in the prison population, while doing nothing to curb illegal drug use. Today, I now know that we live with greater environmental concerns, greater amounts of national debt, a new industry based on incarceration with its new form of slave labor, and we have an income disparity larger than ever before. It is clear to me today that the negative impacts of the economic policies of this skilled actor (that seemed very good at the time) still plague us today.  I can see by my change in worldview in circumstances of politics and social justice that our modes of thinking and perceiving the world are not fixed, but rather, they are influenced and can and do change over time.

My most current knowledge of world affairs no longer comes exclusively from popular culture news sources.  It now comes primarily from a new education.  The combination of homeschooling my children, and learning about alternative (less-consuming) lifestyles had led me to desire a college education (something that I previously did not have the privilege to pursue) at a rather late stage in my life.  This is how my political opinions have been persuaded, by my new education.  Today, I am very glad for my new greater awareness and understanding of the world and my place within it.  In retrospect, I can see that although my youth was very ‘real’ to me, I truly lived in a sort of fantasy world that was based more so on a white-washed history and that of myths than it was on reality.

I also now have a new understanding of wellbeing.  My priorities have changed.  I no longer attach my self-worth to my socioeconomic status or my ability to gain material possessions or to my ability to consume.  I now think of wellbeing in terms of quality time with my family, and how satisfied I am with my overall life outcome.  I now think of my life in relation to the past and the present and also in relation to the experiences of others on a worldwide scale.  I have found that I have become a much more grateful person, realizing the degree of privilege that I possess.

My new awareness allows me greater choice and opportunity than what I had before.  This is mainly because I now have a more expansive view and therefore understanding.  I am able to see from perspectives inclusive of other’s viewpoints.  I am less likely to think in terms of either/or and right or wrong.  I am also beginning to see the world less objectively and more relationally, instead.  The framing of my thoughts is changing according to the new information I am gaining.

One very important change in my awareness is that I now understand that many of my thinking processes, like everyone else’s, may very well be short of being completely rational. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in Economics and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), in his conversation with Richard Layard at the London School of Economics (Thinking Fast and Slow, n.d.) explained how the human mind works in non-rational ways.  He referred to the ‘fast and slow’ thinking as system one, and system two.  System one is a fast, automatic, effortless, intuitive thought process, but it has a weakness in that its intuitive nature is prone to errors.  System two monitors and controls behaviors.  It is slower, more laborious and a more accurate process; yet it is prone to “paralysis by analysis”.  What this means is that our brains “produce mistakes” when they do not have skilled knowledge for the questions they must respond to.  In these types of circumstances, they use the information they do have (including unskilled intuitions and strong emotions) to make a “consistent story” that may be very convincing and compelling, yet prone to error.  The subconscious thinking of system one does a great majority of the brain’s work, and it does it very efficiently, but sometimes at the cost of rationality.

Marketers are aware of this shortcoming in people’s ability to rationalize, and this is why they appeal to people’s emotions rather than rationality when selling products and services to make a profit.  This leads to the reason that a psychology professor was a recipient of a Nobel Prize for economics.  Kahneman questioned standard economic theory that assumes people have consistent and stable preferences and use them to make rational decisions.  Against popular belief, Kahneman proved that people do not always respond to situations rationally.

This new understanding of people’s thinking errors carries implications for the importance of public policy and government regulations.  If people are rational then there is no need to protect them from their own mistakes, but if people are not always rational thinkers, and they are prone to making highly predictable mistakes, then perhaps a degree of policy and regulation is warranted as a means of protection against predators.

Public policy and government regulation are important safeguards against predation by unscrupulous business practices, and so is education.  Kahneman stated that his main reason for writing the book Thinking, Slow and Fast was to “educate gossip” by introducing more sophisticated concepts concerning how people make decisions.  He said that giving people this knowledge along with a terminology and a language to use, would help them in finding and correcting their own thinking errors, in addition to thinking errors of others.  The purpose of his book was to bring awareness of our individual and collective cognitive biases, so that we may protect ourselves against them.

This is, in a way, what the more-with-less books did for me, because they corrected my thinking biases.  I had grown up in a very individualistic culture, and one that is based on economic principles established on a need to compete for limited resources.  The more-with-less books taught me that there are other ways of thinking about resources and economy.  For example, instead of competing for resources, I learned that we could conserve resources.  Likewise, instead of competing with one another, we could work together cooperatively and in collaboration with one anther.  This new way of life, one that I am still attempting to develop, is credited to Doris Janzen Longacre, because she gave me a new language to use, and a new way to frame my thoughts.  Likewise, my education is continuing the process by introducing more sophisticated concepts, terminology, and language such that where my mental processes may fall short, I can be aware of the tendency so that I may safeguard myself, and perhaps others also, against them.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thinking About the Nature of Forgiveness

 A forgiveness quote that resonates with me at this moment is by Lewis B. Smedes,

Healthy anger drives us to do something to change what makes us angry; anger can energize us to make things better.  Hate wants to make things worse.

Thinking of this quote as a ‘forgiveness quote’ (although there is no mention of the word forgiveness) suggests that perhaps forgiveness can have something to do with a desire for social change. This sentiment mirrors an interest of mine, that of Nonviolence as a strategy for social change.

Nonviolent social change ideology insists that one cannot bring about peace through violent means.  This parallels the notion that “hate wants to make things worse”.  Hate in response to an injustice will not result in an improved relationship or personal well-being.  The strong negative emotion of hate will only bring about more negativity.

While hate begets negativity, the feelings of anger can act in the opposite way, as a force for reconciliation.  This may, at first, seem counterintuitive.  Yet if an injustice does not stir any strong emotion, it is unlikely to result in changed actions.  The strong emotion of anger can act as a sort of fuel, to propel one into action, perhaps to take a risk – or as Allan G. Johnson named it in his book, Privilege, Power and Difference, to get off the path of least resistance – and do something that will effect change.

An example of how anger can be used as a force for good, is when Mahatma Gandhi used his anger toward racial injustice to fuel his Nonviolent action (Nonviolence) that led to India’s eventual independence from the rule of Great Britain.  This independence was achieved through nonviolent means that also allowed for reconciliation and a working relationship between these two nations.  Gandhi recognized that the best way to ‘fight back against the enemy’ was to make him your friend.  This required forgiveness.  Anger was the fuel that motivated Gandhi’s creativity in developing a means for achieving peaceful reconciliation.

Another example of anger used as a force for good is that of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of Nonviolence in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.   I read a news article yesterday, in the Daily Kos, that described Dr. King’s  accomplishments in a different way than I have ever before considered.  (I have recently begun to study a U.S. history that has not been ‘white-washed’ !)  What was brought to light in that article was that some folks might think that Dr. King was less-than-effective in his leadership, because there is still a great deal of racial inequality in the U.S. today.  Yet, this is not the only way to see and understand this situation.  In reality, and the thing that is difficult for many folks to see (we may tend to turn away from seeing what we consider ugly), is that the Reverend effectively led a movement that ended a reign of violent terror in the U.S.  In this way, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used his anger toward racial oppression to fuel a successful social movement that brought a greater degree of social justice to oppressed groups of people.

I think that perhaps when we are engaged in feelings of hatred, we have a very limited view – that of our own pain and suffering.  Hatred could be a driving force behind the ‘white-washing’ of history.  Hatred for what was done in the past.  Hatred for the legacy of racism.   Hatred for slavery and violence.  Hatred for the massacre and extermination of so many people.  This hatred can be blinding in that it prevents some folks from looking very closely at the awful truth.  This leads to an incomplete and therefore rather mythical version and understanding of U.S. history (and therefore even ourselves today).  In forgiving, we may be better able to see a larger version of the truth – including the ugly parts – in a way that allows us to respond in thoughtful ways, rather than simply reacting to it.

Injustice can cause strong emotions such as anger and hatred, but these two strong emotions are not similar.  Hate is a destructive force, while anger may be thought of as a force that can motivate one into action that may result in positive social change including forgiveness and possibly even reconciliation.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.