Yesterday I attended one of my favorite events in the Twin Cities, The Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater’s May Day Celebration in Powderhorn Park. The theme of the annual celebration is nonviolence, the cultivation of a peaceful existence between humans and the natural world. As I watched the ending ceremony, featuring humans carrying “heavy burdens” (literally depicted by boxes and paper maché stones), I began to think about the burdens, and violence, we inflict on one another (whether knowingly or unknowingly).
Violence takes many forms — physical harm, intentional damage, neglect. Often, our words produce violent results. I am reminded of a debate I had about a month ago regarding legalized abortion. It was one of those all too common (well, if you’re me) Facebook debates, some of which are productive (many of which are not). The person I ended up debating had posted an intentionally inflammatory status update to the effect of “… now every slutty sally on the block can use abortion as birth control when she gets knocked up.” Aware that this individual was trying to get a rise out his audience, I attempted to engage on a different level.
I asked him if he had considered the psychological violence these terms and stereotypes encourage and inflict. I also remarked that this comment seemed contradictory to the “respect for life” stance. If one truly has “respect for life,” then it should extend to all life (and don’t even get me started on the “gender trouble” inherent in his status update). Obviously missing (or choosing to ignore) my point, he continued to rattle off statistics and moralistic insults, attracting even more “verbal violence” from like-minded individuals committed to “respecting life.”
I give this example not weigh in on the abortion debate, but to illustrate that all of us, no matter what belief systems we subscribe to (or don’t), have the potential to inflict violence through words and actions. I know I am guilty of this. Satire is often my “weapon” of choice. I have always thought of it as a coping mechanism when faced with unbelievable co-workers or when I find myself in a “bang your head against the wall” conversation at a dinner party. But when it comes down to it, my facetiousness is a form of violence, I know it has wounded others in the past.
In the spirit of nonviolence, I constantly challenge myself to quiet my inner snark long enough to hear where others are coming from. Though I encounter many people with whom I will never see eye to eye, I can learn from them. Understanding their theories and arguments most likely won’t completely change mine, but it may help me to nuance my responses to these issues. At the very least, approaching every person and situation (even the most staggering) with sincerity and respect will, in my opinion, help to foster peace (cue Elvis Costello).
I’m human (as my daily mistakes remind me). Though I will try to control the snark as much as I can, I’m sure she’ll escape from time to time (wine tends to lure her out). In these instances, I’ll make sure I’m in like-minded company. After all, sincerity toward one’s philosophical opponents can be an arduous task (refueling is important), but it’s worth it.