Crafting Gentleness

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The violence of necessity?

I would like to suggest that taking a position of gentleness need not be utopian, unpragmatic, or involve participation in some unrealistic, delusional dreamstate. It may be to live a life in which the focus of critique (for me) continues to be the conditions and thinking and behaviour that foster and facilitate force, coercion, violence, domination, and oppression, in whatever form, and especially when I am the one participating in such conditions, thinking, and behaviour. As I suggest on the front page of this site, for me an attitude of gentleness is actually more political than many other alternatives I have come across.

Somebody recently mentioned a Gandhi quotation to me where he says, "Where there is a choice between cowardice and violence I would choose violence" (Declaration on the Question of Violence in Defense of Rights, 1938).

I would like to ask the later Gandhi if he still agreed with this. I don't find it terribly helpful. I would suggest that if we think that any situation can be reduced to a choice between only two positions then we misunderstand the complexities of the situation.

I've sometimes heard it said that there are times when violence is a necessary response to violence. Other people hold whatever positions they hold, but I work with the idea that "necessity" tends to be a rhetorical declaration for the purposes of justification and legitimation rather than the statement of "fact" it is often positioned as. I have found that this tends to be exacerbated when it comes to the "necessity of violence". Knowing what it's like to have grown up in a place where people dying violently on the streets (but usually not my street) becomes accepted as normal allows me no necessary hierarchical privilege of sacred knowledge or revelation when it comes to making sense of violence, and provides me with no easy justifications for claiming violence as a necessary option. I would actually be less likely to trust myself in thinking about these things if I had allowed such violence to remain 'normal', or even 'okay', for me. I've seen how the contagious spirals of violence work. I would rather work towards more gentleness and an attitude of healing than participate in the intensification of violence. That's a position I have worked to and one which I will stick with for the foreseeable future.

People think what they think, and thankfully different people tend to think differently. But I am responsible for my own awareness of how I myself think. I believe that what we think matters because it tends to have consequences what we do and for how we relate to/with people.


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