Monitor Board of Contributors
There are alternatives to violence
First, we must stop assuming the worst
Behind a little magnet on our refrigerator is a yellowed cutout from a handout one of our girls brought home from Broken Ground School about 10 years ago. The words “Strategies for Resolving Conflict” surround a drawing of a circle that looks a lot like the spinner that accompanies your old game of Twister. In the center of the circle are 10 words inviting kids to remember that there are alternatives to violence: “Compromise. Take turns. Share. Change. Postpone. Avoid. Get help. Apologize. Humor. Fight Fair.” The words “assume the worst” are not listed as an option.
The deep tragedy of the death of Trayvon Martin is that it could have been easily avoided. Had George Zimmerman chosen Option 5, 6 or 7 on that list, Martin might still be living, and Zimmerman’s life might not now be so radically altered. Instead, armed with a gun and Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law, Zimmerman assumed the worst, ignored the dispatcher’s warning, pursued Martin and rather than resolving a conflict, created one.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” And blessed are the teachers and the parents and the guardians who teach us strategies for resolving conflict with smarts. And hearts. Blessed are those who remind us that life is too precious and too complex to be addressed by black-and-white, either-or, good-guy-bad-guy thinking.
One of the teachers in my congregation is one such peacemaker, although she would surely deny it. She would have done cartwheels this spring if even half of the kids in her class had mastered just one peacemaking behavior. It was a tough year for her. There were days the bad behavior inside her classroom bordered on anarchy. It can’t have been a comfort either, that the behavior outside her classroom was even worse, revealed over and over by images of Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the brutal murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in London. Yet, by dint of sheer determination, she taught her small flock that just because some people are behaving badly doesn’t mean you have to.
Surely we can all agree, regardless of our race or ethnicity, security for our children is of utmost concern. Preparing for worst-case scenarios is part of the process. But in these times of heightened surveillance, increasing fear, and broader applications of violent means of solving problems, we’re fostering a culture in which worst-case scenarios may be the only scenario we permit ourselves to imagine.
Good peacemaking rests on the ability to imagine something good.
You’ve heard the saying: “If all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.” Too steady a diet of negative thinking naturally morphs into paranoia. I am convinced that part of creating a safer world is teaching one another to learn to look and hope for the best in others.
To call upon our shared “better angels,” and to learn to, well, compromise. Take turns. Share. Change. Postpone. Avoid. Get help. Apologize. Humor. Fight Fair.
Growing up, I had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with adult Quakers. They didn’t need a cutout on a refrigerator to remind them. They had it instilled in their hearts that “there is that of God in every person.” With that stance as their starting point, these good people are deeply devoted to nonviolent approaches to problem solving. They are adept at seeing the good in others and hoping for the best in them. You’d think that would lead to overly rosy approaches to life, but most of the Quakers I know are very practical people who just happen to have developed a far wider range of responses to difficult and sometimes confrontational situations than the average person.
Tony Campolo once said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the line between good and evil does not separate one type of person from another: it runs right through the middle of each human being.
With that in mind, let us pray for the Martin and Zimmerman families. And perhaps, too, for the courage to imagine something good in the next stranger we meet in our neighborhood.
(The Rev. Jed Rardin is pastor of the South Congregational Church in Concord.)