Some say that if we cannot improve upon silence, we should not speak.
It is difficult for me to know what to say during times of great tragedies. I inevitably feel incredible sadness, anger, and fear. I struggle between walking the middle path of not speaking when I am feeling these emotions while also not completely disconnecting from these emotions, compartmentalizing them, and then tucking them away where I don't have to feel them.
Yet are not sadness, anger, and fear the roots of many acts of violence?
Those who are wiser than I have noted that practicing nonviolence is first of all to become nonviolence.
In October 2006, a man entered an Amish Schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, took 10 girls hostage, and began shooting them, ultimately killing 5 before committing suicide. What happened next was something unfathomable to our mainstream American society. Hours after the shooting, members of the Nickel Mines Amish community forgave the shooter and began to care for his family. Scholars on the Amish who have written a book about this incident note:
"In a world where faith often justifies and magnifies revenge, and in a nation where some Christians use scripture to fuel retaliation, the Amish response was indeed a surprise. Regardless of the details of the Nickel Mines story, one message rings clear: religion was not used to justify rage and revenge but to inspire goodness, forgiveness, and grace. And that is the big lesson for the rest of us regardless of our faith or nationality."
I am not an expert in Amish theology, but I have to think that on some level this Amish grace is grounded in the understanding that peace cannot happen unless we acknowledge the roots of violence within each of us.
Those who possess this basic awareness understand that we do not "pray for peace," as Glenn Beck has, by juxtaposing that call with smirking images of ourselves holding guns.
Those who are committed to peace do not use their large platforms to put politicians in their metaphorical "crosshairs" for not espousing the correct religiously-motivated political ideas, as Sarah Palin has, and then wipe their hands of all responsibility when real live people put real live politicians in their real live crosshairs.
And, if we, as a nation, were truly committed to being non-violent, rather than just sometimes being sad about violence when it happens, we would begin to do "the very hard work of trying to change a culture that glorifies and embraces violence as entertainment, and views violence as an appropriate and effective response to the things that bother us."
But we don't.
Instead, those who are committed to non-violence are ridiculed as "pussies" and men are constructed as being inherently interested in kicking ass and utilizing the implements of violence, a conception of masculinity that is further justified by macho man-made religions.
Rhetorical and physical violence is not limited to those on the right, although it is much worse on the right. Lacking awareness at best and intentionally advocating violence at worst, we are a nation comprised of individuals who fetishize tribalism and domination. Starting with the first binary, we quickly learn that everything else exists on a similar polarity culminating in the realization that there is "us" and there are "them."
We forget that in joy and suffering we are all the same.