I was in attendance at the local (Santa Rosa, CA) kick-off of the Season for Nonviolence and I have to admit, the event was a mixed bag.
A lot of good questions were asked, a couple of weak questions were asked, one attempt at activist poetry was met with mixed reviews. Through all of this, a panel of local leaders in violence-mediation, violence-reduction, restorative justice and general outreach in non-violent solutions to our local problems made valiant attempts to field the questions in ways that steered the conversation toward the efforts that must be made in order to give those assembled some sense of hope that there indeed was some hope.
One of the things that struck me was that while everybody said that the key was changing the lives and teaching the techniques of nonviolent conflict resolution to our youngest people and allowing them to grow into the next generation with a new skill-set and an outlook toward each other; the breadth of the problem did not seem to be grasped by those in attendance. The line was eleven people deep with only twenty minutes remaining so I never got to ask the question that nagged at me during all of this.
Is it possible to solve this by such a narrow focus? Can we train a generation of children to be one thing, when the entirety of their culture is pushing them to be something else? I imagined a child fresh from their non-violent conflict resolution school going home to their parent’s nightly fighting, their Xbox and its offerings of violent conflict resolution, the television programming that their parents do not stop them from watching and which often begins with a prostitute being stabbed to death behind a bowling alley, or even the news where they get to see their government solving problems by sending pilot-less drones across the ocean to kill people they never even see.
As someone who faces the choice of whether or not to try and compete with secular entertainments and appetites while trying to proclaim the Gospel of peace and brotherhood, or whether or try a different path; I wonder if that single effort, to teach a new generation to do things differently, is going to be enough. Sure, the world will be better when they are grown, but don’t we have to live through those interceding years? Don’t they have to live through them as well? How can a child compete with adult level dysfunction in such a way as to survive it and begin to pass it along to their children?
Our culture is so much one of violence that the solution has to be more comprehensive than that. Our language reflects that. Our entertainments reflect that, our government’s behavior reflect that, humanity seems to be a violent species and when we want to change that, we ought not delude ourselves into thinking that it will be one thing that fixes it.
Try and convince people that our national obsession with gladiatorial combat, be it in the video game milieu or on our televisions every evening as this MMA professional beats this other MMA professional into a bloody pulp for the approval of the cheering crowd, try and convince people that this is bad thing and even if you do succeed in convincing them, try and convince them to stop selling it anyway. It’s big business.
As is the NFL, which we will be reveling in as a nation tomorrow as men with life expectancies severely shortened by their professions hurl themselves at one another, risking brain injury, risking crippling injuries to their bodies, risking behavioral changes later in life as the aftereffects of repeated concussions. After all, we all talk about the great hits we saw in the game on Sunday when we gather at work, like crashes at NASCAR events, they are among the highest highlights.
Supervisor Shirley Zane made the most profound statement of the evening, I thought, when she reminded those assembled that violence is not just aggression played out with weapons or with fists. It lies in our words and our actions. Physically intimidating someone without saying a word is still committing violence against them; so is yelling in the front seat of the car at the car that cut you off, so is cutting someone off in traffic. It is everywhere. If we are to
combat it, no, strike that, if we are to address it, then we have to do so everywhere.
The one word I heard over and over again, and the one place where I think we have some hope of making progress was the word “together.” We live in a culture that celebrates the individual, that bristles when anyone puts forth the notion that we might work for common cause, after all “common” sounds a little too much like “communist” so it must be bad.
But the emphasis on the individual and the pandering to the individual taste and preference and desires has left us capable of isolating ourselves in individual cocoons where we listen to the music that we like instead of interacting with others, we watch the news we like instead of interacting with others, we surf the web with a browser that constantly filters out things it thinks we are not interested in instead of interacting with others. We are being taught and encouraged to think of only our own desires by the dominant cultural forces that surround us. How surprising is it that when we feel that individual supremacy threatened, we react badly or violently?
I’ll explore this proposition and how it affects our abilities to address issues in a thoughtful, intentional and nonviolent way in the next posting. Until Then.