The news this week has been filled with gun violence and now a brutal police beating and murder in addition to the continuing horrors of war impacting the citizenry of Ukraine. By the time most of you read this Sunday morning your senses will be stunned and perhaps numbed by it all. And saddened. As much as I would prefer to ignore the extent of what seems to be an epidemic of violence, and the media coverage that exasperates it all, it is a cultural reality that defines so much of our daily lives right now, and I need to try to deal with the sorrow of it all.
This evening I just want to acknowledge how impactful all this violence is on my heart, mind and soul and perhaps on yours. Relative to much of the rest of the world I live a remarkably secure and protected life. I could just pull down a curtain of isolation and pretend the world’s violence is occurring elsewhere. And I am often tempted to do so, especially when I am so unable to process and work through the sorrow I can only begin to feel for the families of those killed and wounded as a result of all the violence. For many of us our inability to understand what is happening will most likely make us depressed. But for others an understandable response will be anger and a call to action. And maybe that’s the best most of us can do at this time.
What my commitment to nonviolence wants to do, of course, is somehow to rise above it all. I want to explain to myself that violence is not inevitable. Conflict, yes. But I know our species is capable of resolving conflicts without resorting to violence. I even know how that happens because I have participated in avoiding potentially violent situations myself. And various forms of nonviolent interruption has happened repeatedly over millennia in spite of all the historical records of wars and oppression, and it is happening right now at some level in our personal lives and in mediation centers and courtrooms across the world. Of course mediating and preventing violence is not guaranteed or timely as we are witnessing now in the war in Ukraine. But ultimately peacemaking prevails, and if done well through a truth and reconciliation process that reestablishes some level of trust between combatants, we can move beyond violence to a more peaceful world.
I know from my nonviolence practice that it is not enough to resist injustice; we must replace its causes with something better. A common response to violence and injustice is to respond in kind. Yes, I want those who act violently and unjustly to be held accountable. I want gunmen and sadistic police officers to be removed from society if and until they can act responsibly. And I also want to believe at some level each of them is better than their most horrible selves. And I want our societal and governmental structures to act to prevent such atrocities in the future and to take bold and courageous means that would provide greater levels of assurances that we as a society are going to be as safe as possible such as outlawing the public sale of military arms.
But all those ambitious longings presume our society is willing and able to reckon with the deep underlying culture of violence that largely defines us. We are a militaristic society that gives highest budgetary priority to our preparation and willingness to go to war, including the use of atomic warfare. We are a society deeply imbedded in the football culture that cheers on physical violence even though we know how harmful it is to the players and perhaps even more harmful to our national psyche. I have thought for years of the Super Bowl as a kind of national high holy day of celebration and homage to the game and the violence it represents.
While we are bound in a culture of violence, we are also a nation of great care and kindness. As a people we are capable of great sympathy and sorrow in the aftermath of tragedy. We are all so pleased when we personally give or receive empathy and cooperative support rather than create division and rancor. We know this is the high ground we must seek. We will continue to work collectively to create the “beloved community” we seek, but ultimately it must begin with the caring and kindness of each of us individually. So be it.