Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Weapon of the Strong

In previous posts I have lamented the over-emphasis on pacifism in the green movement - just because we feel we can trust an entity that is purporting to do good does not mean we can turn our brains off and bask in the glory. I have long speculated that it is a desperate attempt to get back the easiest state of our lives, when we could run around like idiots and let our parents worry about the details (like pants).

(I should point out here that no matter how much I support personal responsibility I can never condone the insensitive comments by Cheryl Gallant, the Ontario MP who callously said she wished that those who made their living on the sea would take more personal responsibility and not expect to be rescued by the coast guard ... while in St. John's ...  after hearing about two previous incidents where lives were lost at sea.)

One avenue, however, that I feel could benefit from a healthy dose of pacifism is Canada's Justice system and the public's views, assessments, and expectations of it. Since learning about the traditional Native approach to justice, I have seen the lack in our own. The Native approach favored rehabilitation and understanding, rather than punishment and retribution, and emphasized a holistic approach to fulfilling the needs of the victim and the criminal, the best approach to dealing with crimes of need or desperation, the most preventable (and most guilt-inducing for observers) crimes in our time.

The attempt to 'equalize' a wrong by aggressing on the guilty party will never build the victim back up, there is so little good to be gained from watching the suffering of another and it comes at the heavy cost of our personal humanity. The living embodiment of the alternate, pacifist approach is James Loney, a playwright who was interviewed recently about his time as a captive in Baghdad. Despite the fact that their friend had been killed by their captors, after they had been released they found the strength to forgive them, fearing if they had not, the kidnappers would have been subject to torture and death at the hands of law enforcement agents. As he says, the more we see humanity in others, the less we suffer.

The most important concept he espouses, in reaction to the interviewer's observation that without the army (here symbolizing non-pacifism) he would not have been freed, is that "it's bigger than [him]". It is true, sometimes but rarely, a concept or belief is greater than our lives, and just because it does not guarantee a happy ending, does not mean their comrade wouldn't die, does not mean it is not worthwhile. There is so much energy at the intersection of beliefs, dominant and challenging, that there are occasionally casualties, but it cannot demean the value of the belief, only the strength of the old ideal's entrenchment.

My only criticism is on the expectation that the victim will be able to forgive - this is expecting too much, and we cannot build a system hinging on the offering of the hardest sentiment to give freely, it expects too much of victims. Mr. Loney describes those who practice non-violence as "shock-absorbers", and it is a valid comparison, people offering themselves to absorb the energy  of anger and retribution - to stop the cycle. But the fact remains that a new system would be built on the strength of the human heart and the depth of our compassion, rather than the strength of our hate and the depth of our anger. 

The title is from Mahatma Ghandi: "Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong".

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