Violence (First Observation)

Recently I have been doing study, meditation and dialogue about my own ideas of a definition of violence as a peacemaker. There is one inevitable fact that I know from years of peacemaking it is that there is absolutely no unanimity amongst the peace community on what constitutes a violent act. Due to the increasing diversity of peacemakers this would be an inevitable consequence of post-modernity.

Yet, there are older fissures in the conversation that go back to beyond the civil rights movement itself. These are the tensions between the ideal and the practical.

The Ideal

There is a strong strain of utopian theology inside religious peacemakers. This Utopianism tends to set for a more rigid structure toward peacemaking. It makes violence primarily as something that is moral in individuals, states and institutions. It is imperative in this system to not participate in any perceived violence to be pure and morally influence the transformation of those participating in violent acts.

Often there has been little evaluation of a definition of violence because it is assumed. In some groups the same definitions of violence are decades old. Discussions of violence are akin to picking up a 1950’s World Book encyclopedia. There are iconic statements of violence from the “prophets” that spoke to a time much different than our own.

The Practical

“Throwing a rock through a Starbucks’ window is not violence. A window is not a sentient being!”

This is a practical statement of a definition of violence. It is a statement of tactics and not interior transformation. It separates the act, the emotion, and the agency from each other. What is most important is the effectiveness of whether a tactic achieves a stated or unstated result.

These results could range from achieving a successful action to merely displaying anger, dispossession and rage. Either can be seen as an acceptable result by some of those who espouse this practical vision of violence.

Whether it is setting a police car on fire in Ferguson, shattering a Starbucks’ window in Seattle or throwing rocks at soldiers in Palestine these actions are seen as acceptable tactics to effect positive change. There are also some peacemakers who do not see all of them as violent acts.

During intense dialogue in both groups I am convinced that I must rethink my own views of violence. I must be transformed by the renewing of my own mind. I must take seriously both the internal and the practical if I am to be true to the Spirit of this age. As time permits in the coming days I will continue writing about violence. More for myself, but I hope that my friends in the peacemaking community will find value in these musings as well.


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