I have been thinking about violence and nonviolence a lot. Jane and I finished our second book on nonviolent re-parenting of children in foster care during the summer, and have been writing the index this week. (Nurturing Strangers is slated for publication by Routledge in mid-December.) In brief, children in care have suffered the trauma of violence, often in multiple ways. Many of these kids carry unhealed wounds and scars that makes for a life of troubled emotions, broken relationships, and too often further violence their whole lives. Our suggestion is that providing a loving, intentionally nonviolent home is a major part in healing for these kids.
I’m also teaching my course Philosophies of Nonviolence this semester, and working through with undergraduates their understanding and experience of violence and using the resources of philosophy to find a better way.
Violence has always been pervasive in the human experience. Most of our woes can be traced to the human propensity to try to solve problems by force that causes harm to the Other. In my work I have made a distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary violence. Primary is the obvious violence that is physical and intended to hurt. Secondary is that violence that is not physical but rather psychological, emotional—intentionally shouting down the weaker, shaming and bullying. Tertiary is that violence that is sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional, but is an imbedded element of social systems—racism, patriarchy, economic systems that enslave the poor. These forms of violence differ in their actions, but all share a mistaken view that might is right, that the strong should force the weak to change, that harm is a useful tool to get what you want, irrespective of the hurt caused to the Other.
Nonviolence, on the other hand is a refusal to use violence to bring change, the intentional resort to lovingkindness, and an always seeking the good of the Other. Nonviolence is a better way. It makes for healthy relationships. It heals rather than wounds. Nonviolence makes for a better world.
On Thursday, with millions of Americans, I was deeply moved as a middle-aged woman recounted her story of sexual violence when she was a young teenager. She had suffered violence in its raw physical assault, and its deep psychological repercussions in PTSD and anxiety. In the re-telling, before a largely male audience, she suffered further hurt in the deep violence of patriarchy. It was the soft, hesitant, humble and truthful voice of an abused woman. I watched, too, as the threatened patriarchy offered its response in a dismissive, shouting, mocking, accusing and angry voice.
Whatever the outcome of the national spectacle, for me, it juxtaposed the ways of violence and loving nonviolence. We always face an existential choice: to harm or to heal, to hurt further or to help heal the wounds of violence.
The age-old ways of violence have failed us. Let’s choose nonviolence.