We have a president who appears not to edit his speech. He seems to lose control of his emotions more than we would expect a person in his position would do. We see him vacillating and self-contradicting in public, speaking and thinking on the fly so to speak. And finally, we see behavior that most of us learned would earn the disapprobation of our classmates when we were in elementary school; strutting and boasting, we quickly found out, was not the way to make friends or gain respect. Is our nation moving in the direction of peace or unwittingly promoting violence?
Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.
Toni Morrison in her 1993 Nobel lecture
Toni Morrison’s insight is central to the dilemma facing America today. Many of us are disturbed when political demonstrators smash windows and burn cars but provocative language may in the long run create more fear and anger. “‘Violence’ doesn’t just mean fists and guns anymore—now we argue over violent speech, structural violence. Are Americans spoiling for a fight, or trying to prevent one?” (1)
What is the “structural violence” mentioned above by Amanda Hess? When a society denies that it is organized in such a way that policies and prejudices can harm people, we have “structured” our collective story in a way that promotes violence. Recently, we heard about the incident where during a water crisis, drinkable water was delivered to one community and undrinkable water to another. Have we reached a point where we are not even aware of how violent our everyday behavior is?
Violence as it turns out is built into the American paradigm or narrative. That story influences how we think of ourselves, our identity. This explains how we can express ourselves so violently and at the same time be unaware of how our community is getting increasingly violent. “The price of our gun policy can be seen in this breathtaking statistic: More Americans have died from guns here in the United States since 1970 (nearly 1.4 million) than American soldiers have died in all the wars in our country’s history over more than 200 years (about 1.2 million).” (2) How many of us were aware of our long-term history of violence. Violence in America is nothing new.
We used to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” It turns out that that is not true. When the name-calling and labeling begins, communication stops. The war of words between the so-called “alt-right” and the “progressives” has incited violence on both sides. White nationalist, Richard Spencer was punched in the face by a masked anti-fascist (in January 2017) and verbal reactions to a video of the assault threatened to promote further violence. “Writing in The Nation, Natasha Leonard called the video ‘pure kinetic beauty’ and argued that ‘if we recognize fascism in Trump’s ascendance,’ then ‘direct, aggressive confrontation’ is warranted.” (1) Is it really?
Insight # 13: Violence is the clashing of individual wills in a community that fails to recognize that the harmony of Oneness is the only viable worldview within which to build a sustainable global village.
- Violence in ABC’s
- Hess, Amanda. “Battle Cry.” The New York Times Magazine. August 20, 2017, pages 9 and 11.
- Kristof, Nicholas. “The Killer Who Supports Gun Control.” The New York Times Sunday Review. December 15, 2013, page 11.