Making Peace More Possible?

Violence is on my mind these days.

I doubt the world is any more violent now than in former times, but somehow it feels ever more close and intimate–probably because the  means of sharing it  is so immediate and in-your-face.

gun violence
sciencenutshell.com

I speak here of more than what we usually identify as physical violence against others–war, bombing, shootings, arson, vandalism, assault, murder, rape–by including other forms of violence against the bodies of others–hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care, homelessness and lack of basic body protections.

police violence
flockforward.com

I mean social violence, too, including ugly words spoken to and about others, individually and in groupings–exclusion and threats to exclude people from groups based on irrelevant characteristics such as skin color, gender and gender expression, religion, sexual orientation, nationality and ethnicity, age–in person and on social media, hateful words spoken in hushed tones behind the back of the despised, the silences when those who hear the ugliness fail to speak up to offer correction or objection, as well as the violence that arises when two people, or a family or group of close friends, erupt in ugly words, and sometimes strike out physically, aimed at each other.

domestic violence 1
begun.case.edu

There also is psychic and emotional violence which can sometimes be cold and wordless, holding another or others hostage through spoken and unspoken threats of bodily harm, or eternal damnation or disgrace, if the object person even thinks what has been defined as wrong or evil or just dares to exist.

There is so much violence. And that is undoubtedly an incomplete list.

riots violence
canvas.brown.edu

Where there is violence there will be no peace. It has been said many times that peace is not the mere absence of violence. But such absence is the ground on which peace may grow.

Why do we so often resort to violence when doing so merely increases, or escalates, the level of violence? Is violence ever a good response to violence?

Few people doubt that Hitler and the Nazis could have been stopped without violence. Is that enough to justify its use in every day life, in political discourse in the land of the free and home of the brave, as the template for so much that passes for international relations?

domestic violence
calgarysun.com

I have no good answers. All I know to do in this moment of my life is to begin to observe my own violence, and the violence I experience around me, and the violence I learn about in larger social realms.

I want to understand more fully the role of violence in my life and in the lives of those around me, and in my community, state, nation and world. Naming it is the beginning, cataloging it, labeling it, help, too.

Perhaps what I am proposing is a violence inventory or index, admittedly not a pleasant thought and task, but still I think necessary if we want, as I do, a more peaceful, loving world. (you can read a UN report on violence here)

violence against children poverty
unicef.org

Will you join me? Will you commit with me to looking clearly at the violence in our lives, describing it and our feelings, owning the times when we are the agents of violence or at least complicit in it, as well as the ways and times we see others acting as purveyors of violence–in the hope we can change ourselves, and contribute to wider change, making peace more possible?

On this Solstice, when the dark lasts longest in the 24 hours, let us go deep into ourselves and into our world to hold up, examine, and discard and disown some bit of violence.

 

 

 

 

What Do Topless Women and Homeless People Have in Common?

Most people, and I certainly include myself in this, express opinions based on social customs with which we have become comfortable–even believing that these customs have some very deep roots in human, and even divinely ordered, morality.

Racism works like that, to be sure. We grow up with prejudice which seems natural because in our families and/or community or society at large it was just the norm, often unstated but clearly present.

But this is not limited to racism.

desnudas Times SquareThere is considerable controversy these days in New York over some women who are displaying their breasts in Times Square. Controversy may be too weak a term for some; many express outrage. Topless women threatens Western civilization!

Never mind that the state’s highest court said long ago that laws forbidding women to go topless in public but allow men do so amounts to discrimination based on sex (and thus is unconstitutional). But that does not stop parts of the local media and the Police Commissioner from threatening all sorts of actions to stop the outrage. Even Mayor Blasio is doing some foaming at the mouth about it.

Rudy GiulaniAnd speaking of New York, did you hear about former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani going to his local precinct to complain about a homeless man living on his street? When he told of doing so, he called the time when people lived on the streets and did not use bathrooms inside “the dark ages.” That did not cause him to reflect on how difficult it must be for homeless people. Instead, he said, of his time as Mayor, “You chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em, and they either get the treatment that they need or you chase ’em out of the city.”

I have different sensibilities. Frankly, I would rather spend time with some of the homeless people I have known than with the Mayor. I lived in New York during much of his mayoralty, and it was often ugly–but not so much because of homeless people (rampant homelessness is ugly for its victims, yes, but not in the same way for the rest of us). I called him Mayor Bully-ani, because of the way he went after people who offended his sensibility.

seeking human kindness -- homeless manI do not deny that homelessness is unpleasant when we encounter it, but does that mean we take out our discomfort on those who suffer. Instead, we find ways to help.

And those women in Times Square? Who are they hurting? In fact, who would it hurt if women could be bare-chested in public, just like men?

Much of the body shame aimed at women is enforced by these sorts of prohibitions. And what is truly distressing is that the very act of hiding body parts can actually increase interest in them. So the act of denial leads to fetishes.

What men used to have to wear
What men used to have to wear

Hiding women’s breasts goes back to those dark ages spoken about by Mayor Giuliani, and earlier, when women were property of men; women were homebound creatures and their menfolk–husbands and fathers–did not want breasts, symbols of fertility, to be displayed.

And did you know this? It was not until 1936 that it was legal in New York State for men to bare their nipples? That trend seems to have taken off and become “normal.”

desnudas Times Square man painting womanMaybe someday it will be so for women.

It will undoubtedly take longer to change attitudes toward homeless people. But we could start by making sure that being homeless is not viewed as a crime–the same way women baring breasts is not a crime.