In the wake of another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas, calls for gun control, once again, make their way into our collective conversations. While this is an important conversation, I believe a more important conversation centers around how we shift a cultural norm that seems all to willing to tolerate violence in it’s many forms. My work as healer who has spent a lifetime working with individuals impacted by the experience of abuse and violence has developed in me a deep opposition to violence. I find, however, that being opposed to violence is the easy part. The more difficult and challenging part is being committed to nonviolence.
Being opposed to violence simply requires us to refrain from doing something. Holding and embodying a commitment to nonviolence requires an active stance that moves beyond simply avoiding violence. I like Parker Palmer’s definition of violence as a starting point for how to think about living a nonviolent life:
Violence is not just about bombing or shooting or hitting people. Violence is any way we have of violating the integrity of the other. Racism and sexism is violence. Derogatory labeling of any sort constitutes violence. Rendering other people invisible or irrelevent is an act of violence. So is manipulating people towards our ends as if they wer objext that existed only to serve our purpose.
By this definition, a nonviolent life requires behaviors that consistently maintain the integrity of every person we encounter. A commitment to nonviolence means we actively explore internal racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other prejudice that hinders our ability to treat another person as whole and valuable. Living a nonviolent life requires us to genuinely see and act toward the other in ways that acknowledge her or his relevance and importance. Living a nonviolent life requires us to be mindful, paying attention to when and how we objectify individuals or see them only as instruments of our agenda. In summary, I believe that a commitment to non-violence invites us to see that within everybody is the light of Spirit or hope or God.
As part of a commitment to nonviolence each of us must decide how to respond to those who perpetrate violence. In the aftermath of Las Vegas, Pulse, the killing of unarmed black men, Sandy Hook, and others many of us want me to condemn perpetrators – be they lonely gunmen or active duty police officers. While condemnation is not “violent” I believe it definitely falls short of Parker Palmer’s aspirations for non-violence. A commitment to nonviolence—to seeing the light within everybody—is not the same as tolerating unacceptable behaviors.
In fact, holding steadfastly to a stance of non-violence with integrity quite often leads to conflict or disagreement. Communicating the complex polarity that one abhors the specific behavioral choices of a perpetrator while not vilifying or demonizing that perpetrator takes considerable skill and a tolerance for distress or discomfort. However, when we see the light in others, even during conflict or in the face of their unacceptable actions, attitudes, or beliefs, we make small steps toward ending our culture of violence. This I believe will get us much further than gun control.