Breaking the Cycle of Violence

September 10th, 2013

break the cycleConflict escalates because we think we need the upper hand to be secure. If someone shouts, we need to shout back even louder. If someone hits, we need to hit back harder. It’s a cycle that never ends well. So how do we break it?

Sarah MacDonald, Australian journalist and author of Holy Cow An Indian Adventure, said.

The cycle of violence needs extreme love to break it.

This is SO true. Violence is an extreme form of fear (born of the ego’s need to control and expressed as anger or aggression). It needs to be met with an energy of equal power, extreme love. Extreme love doesn’t necessarily mean passive love. It could be VERY active, smart and forceful. But the important point is that it matches the passion of violence and redirects it, breaking the cycle of violence rather than escalating it.

Too often we assume that meeting force with even greater force is the only solution. This is because we’re aiming for control; the last word, the loudest voice, the strongest grip.

It’s like the 1960’s TV sitcom called “Get Smart”? The secret service goodies are even called Control. The baddies work for a terrorist group called Chaos. In one episode, the villain traps Max and 99 high on a cliff. Max tries to threaten him saying, “As we speak General Crawford and one hundred crack paratroopers are landing on the island.” They laugh at him. Max tries again, “Would you believe J Edgar Hoover and ten of his friends.” They laugh again. Max says, “How about Tarzan and a few apes.” Max then requests his dying wish, and lights up his exploding cigarette, blowing the baddies off the cliff to their death. Agent 99 watches in horror and then comments to Max, “You know, Max, sometimes I think we’re no better than they are, the way we murder and kill and destroy people”, to which Max replies, “Why, 99, you know we have to murder and kill and destroy in order to preserve everything that’s good in the world.” I can still remember the distorted look on Max’s face as he realized the absurdity of what he had just said.

This is how we perpetuate the cycle of violence. Remember that Timothy McVeigh, who committed the worst act of domestic terror in U.S. history, learned to kill in the first Gulf war. In his own words, the war turned him into an “animal.” He came back from war, mentally disturbed, and continued to kill. Then he himself was killed. There’s the cycle- the government that trained him to kill, kills him, to show the rest of us that it is wrong to kill.

It’s what Walter Wink called The Myth of Redemptive Violence. The myth says that order at any cost is better than chaos. If order requires violence, so be it. If you can justify the violence on the basis that God, or good, is on your side then your case is even stronger. It’s unfortunately built on the idea that God is vengeful and prepared to use force to keep order. The whole notion of atonement in Christianity is that “someone has to pay” to appease God’s anger. In this view, religion, instead of being an agent for peace, becomes one of the chains in the cycle of violence.

It’s worth remembering some of the great heroes who have broken the cycle of violence and challenged the myth of redemptive violence. Many of them paid the price for their challenge to the system. They were willing to suffer to help those who get innocently caught up in the cycle of violence, Syrian children, refugees and the poor to name a few.

By meeting violence with extreme love, even sacrificial love, they show us the power of redemptive suffering. Jesus was one supreme example of this truth, and to think of his death as an act of extreme love that broke a cycle of violence is SO much more empowering to me than thinking of it as a punishment to appease an angry God.

There are other amazing examples of redemptive suffering.  The story of Rosenstrasse, Rose Street in Berlin, that was made into a movie recently is a powerful example.

Up until early 1943 the Nazis spared Jews who were married to non Jewish Germans. But Hitler stepped up his program to exterminate Jews and wanted Berlin to be an example. So the fear rose, and people left home for work in the morning unsure if they would be kidnapped, imprisoned and killed.

The cycle of violence perpetuated by Hitler felt unstoppable. But a group of women whose husbands had been kidnapped dared to challenge the Nazis. They gathered to protest in Rose Street and demanded the release of their husbands. The crowd grew larger each day. They were threatened by guards and while they occasionally retreated to safety they kept coming back.

Rose Street, according to one report, “was crammed with people, and the demanding, accusing cries of the women rose above the noise of the traffic like passionate avowals of a love strengthened by the bitterness of life.”

They resisted the threats of the Gestapo and refused to leave. Their Jewish husbands were released by Goebbels himself who thought it was simpler than dealing with their protest. He thought he would get them later, but he never did. The protest saved lives and broke the cycle of extreme violence with an act of extreme love.

Extreme violence is never beaten easily or without loss. It’s not a passive movement, but it aims for non violence so as to break a cycle that leaves the whole world blind.

It requires MANY people, people like you and me, to refuse to buy into a worldview based on “might is right” and control at all costs. As children, we get socialized into this worldview and it becomes second nature. We need to get back before this socialization to break the cycle.

I love this short story from Syria by Zakariyya Tamer

 The Young Ones Laugh:

 One day the king saw a number of children playing in the field and laughing merrily.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked.

“I am laughing,” one of them replied “because the sky is blue.”

“I am laughing,” a second replied “because the trees are green.”

“I am laughing,” a third replied “because the birds are flying through the air.”

The king looked at the sky, the birds, and the trees and found that they were not laughing.  He came to the conclusion that the children were only laughing to poke fun at the king’s majesty.  So he went back to his palace and issued an order forbidding the people of his kingdom to laugh. All the old people obeyed the ruling and stopped laughing, but the young children paid no attention to the king’s edict and carried on laughing because the sky is blue, the trees are green and the birds kept on flying.

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  1. Margaret says:

    I fully endorse what you are writing about the power of creating peace by living with the beauty of respect for our world, and for all its people, with all their differences. Each step we take in love, is a step away from fear and eventual disaster. Namast

  2. [...] Last night I read a post written by Ian Lawton of Soul Seeds, Breaking the Cycle of Violence. [...]