Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thoughts on Nonviolence (3)

What can we learn about nonviolence from the fact that those who are the targets of violence are usually the most vulnerable, the weakest, the most marginalized, the ones most looked down upon and neglected by the rest of society? It is indisputable that violence preys on children, the most innocent and least privileged members of almost any society, with shocking regularity. Recently, I was disturbed to learn that back in the 1870s, one of the first cases of severe child abuse that was actually prosecuted in the US began as a complaint to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, because there was no legal or institutional recourse for cruelty against children at that time. To this day, we seem to think that parents and other caregivers have a right to treat the children for whom they are responsible in any way they see fit. But this is simply a particularly pernicious part of the entire ethos that condones and perpetuates violence.

In the United States alone, three children die everyday owing to adult abuse. Throughout the world, millions, perhaps even hundreds of millions of children are violated, battered, sold into slavery, shipped off as prostitutes, or starved into illness and death. This inclination to inflict violence on those least able to defend themselves and least responsible for their actions, prompts me anyway to wonder how violence can ever be productive, except perhaps in the most extreme cases of self-defense where not responding with violence could produce irreparable harm. But I don't want to draw attention to those extreme cases, because they are so rare. Better simply to state that violence is wrong, especially violence inflicted on the innocent, and until this is acknowledged and consciously practiced, little progress can be made. Practicing nonviolence in everyday life with conscientiousness and heightened awareness is one of the ways to begin confronting this violence that clings to the very fabric of society and brings with it a steady degradation and deterioriation of the relationships that hold it together.

I often recall my own years as a child when my safety and security were never in doubt, when I knew that no matter what happened I would be protected. This is in contrast to the thousands of children who fear returning home everyday and who cannot know how an offhand comment or a simple laugh might trigger a torrent of violence. It leads me to wonder whether a radical movement in favor of nonviolence is not a necessary next stage in which violence everywhere - in the home, at the workplace, in the popular media, even in sports - is actively discouraged. I don't know, though. It is also possible to become a fanatic for nonviolence who judges too harshly, silences too abruptly, and condemns too severely, and in the process, does more harm than good, propagating a kind of violence of one's own.

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