The Violence of Retaliation vs Walking Away and World Peace


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve never been able to understand the Christian idea of turning the other cheek when somebody attacks.   Are you crazy? It was always presented to me as a super-moralistic, holier-than-thou, self-denigrating, forgive your enemy, martyrish kind of philosophy.  Anybody with an ounce of spirit would reject it, surely.  I certainly did.  If somebody hurts me, I must let them hurt me again?  Absolutely not!  In fact, why shouldn’t I hurt them back?  They deserve it!

Well, I still don’t get the part about letting them hurt me again, but I’ve started seeing the retaliation part in a different light – unless of course somebody is trying to actually take my life or physically endanger me.  When somebody does something that’s just provocative, or even physically / emotionally hurtful, do I resolve anything by being reactive and hurting them back?

I don’t think so.  The instant of retaliation brings a lot of satisfaction, but it doesn’t last.   Then, if I’m honest, I’m left with the vision of the vulnerable person inside the bully that I’ve just hurt.  Somehow at that point it doesn’t help to say “well they started it, it’s their fault”.  Yes, they did, and it’s excellent justification for walking away.

If a person won’t interact respectfully, no  matter how vulnerable they are on the inside, I think it’s just fine to close the door on them.  Even if it leaves them lonely.  I may feel sad about their loneliness but I can’t hold myself responsible for it.   In any case, in that lonely space is where they’re most likely to face themselves and begin their own healing so they can eventually learn to interact with people in a way that will engender love.

But “they started it” doesn’t seem like a justification for hitting back any more.  I suppose because no matter what somebody does to me I’m still responsible for what I do with my emotions and my behavior, and I can’t pin those on somebody else’s provocations.   Violence, whether it’s physical or emotional, begets violence and there’s no way round that.  When somebody is provocative, they do it because they want me to react.  They need it.  It’s how they know they’re alive.  If I retaliate and get off on it, I’m no different to them.  It takes two to tango.  Two partners, one dance.

Refusing to retaliate doesn’t have to be about being super moral and superior, any more than it has to be about being a coward.  I think it’s about dealing with my own emotions so that I don’t need to hurt the other person back.   It’s hard to do, it’s definitely not the easy option.  But it is the best one, in the long run.  I can’t make world peace happen, but I can be responsible for peace in my own life.

This blog was inspired by an article Gregory Lewis wrote on SearchWarp, The Repugnance of Mob Mentality – A Condemning of Violent Rhetoric No Matter Who. Click here to read it.  Thanks for the inspiration, Greg!

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