Monday, June 29, 2009
An eye for an eye, a bullet for a tv
I have a right to shoot someone who steps unto my property. In my view of things, this is simply horrible. What if that person was an old friend whom I didn't recognize? What if it's a new friend who I could have made?
But, sure, this unknown person, the nefarious other of our collective fears, is probably someone who wants to take my stuff, rape, or kill me, so I really ought to be hyper-vigilant and get a gun. Anything less would mean I'm some kind of liberal wuss who thinks the evil doers can just get away with whatever they want.
In a discussion about the inevitable end-times, when there's not enough to go around and I'm sitting here hoarding my last cans of soup, I should not even think of sharing. I've got to survive at the expense of others. Again, if I don't shoot that neighbor, they'll be drinking soup and laughing over my dead body, right? "Ha! That silly liberal city gal didn't have enough sense to shoot me! She offered me some soup. Now I've got her house, her soup, and her TV!"
Well, folks, you're welcome to it all. I am not killing you over a can of soup or a television set. Is this dystopian vision really worth killing for, anyway? Not to me.
I'm no wuss. I've been in a few dangerous situations, and they've all turned out well. When I picture all of those situations, if I'd reacted with violence, I probably would have wound up dead, or at least seriously harmed.
When I was followed home by a pack of drunk young men who forced themselves into my apartment building at 4:00am, I don't think their intentions were gentlemenly. If I had had a knife, a gun, or some mace, would I have been safer? I think not. Packing a weapon of any kind would have caused me to think of it as the line of first defense. I would not have had to think of anything more than how to use it, instead of thinking about how to diffuse the situation. Now, don't get me wrong: There are some situations that can not be diffused. But, the majority of situations can be, and when we're walking around in a state of defense, we tend not to see that. A threat is perceived and it becomes an opportunity to act out of our fears. If one is really concerned with safety, no matter what we see in movies, it is not the safest way to be. On guard all the time, afraid of the other; violence breeds in those waters.
The night those young men followed me up to my apartment, I remained calm. One thing about people in predatory mode is that they get off on fear. If you show them none, there's nothing to push against. It's mental Aikido. The attacker attacks nothing and is thrown off guard and off balance.
I looked those four men in the eye, slowly. I looked them up and down. Then, I asked them, "What do you want?" Luckily for me (yes, some of it was luck), they had consciences. If they meant to rape me, which I believe they did, they could not say it. They had followed me, pushed me into my building, pushed me into my elevator, and I did not feel or show fear. I did not yell at them. I did not cry. I did not even judge. I suddenly saw them as the ones who were scared. Not I. They were trying to prove something; their manhood, their power. . .who knows? But whatever it was, it wasn't going to happen.
I kept my gaze steady and continued to act as if I was going to invite them in as we rode the old elevator to the top floor. By the time the door opened, at least one of them was shifting his feet and staring at his shoes like a little kid caught stealing a lollipop. I walked out of the elevator and turned to them. I said something that I don't recall. I might have even said, "Are you coming or not?" I remember being slightly haughty, but not enough to make them mad. I remember feeling like smiling, but that would have been too much.
I don't know why most people think those who follow the path of non-violence are "suckers." No one has taken anything away from me. I know one person who's been mugged four times (at least) and has four broken noses to show for it. Each time, he refused to give up his money. How much did he have on him? Not much, I imagine. But it was "the principle of thing" for him, like it is for so many. I would not die for a couple of bucks, or any other inanimate thing. Yes, I'd defend myself if someone was trying to kill me, and if someone was trying to kill someone I know, I'd do whatever I could to save them, including sticking a knife in someone's back. Standing by watching is itself a form of violence. Taking a pure stance on anything seems to me to be a sure-fire sign of wrongheaded thinking.
I don't walk around in a state of fear, and for that I am glad. It's not because I live in bucolic Maine. It's because that in spite of the fact that there are some truly bad people out there, I believe most people are essentially good. Even the person who means to do me harm. And I believe if that person can see that I see them that way, the possibility of violence decreases automatically. That's been my experience.
Every man your brother, father, or son. Every woman your sister, mother, or daughter. If we all saw with eyes like these, the world would be a much more peaceful place. Impossible? Right now, it seems so. But I can always hope for the future.
Image Note: Instead of posting a photograph of Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi,or the Dalai Lama (or some dirty hippie flashing a V-sign, to all those who think this is simply airy-fairy stuff), this is a photograph of an unsung hero to me, Lawrence Apsey, who founded the Alternatives to Violence Project, of which I was once involved. For more about him, and the Project, go here.