I have been writing about nonviolence on this site since its inception. It has been an integral part of my life for many years. I continue to strive to live nonviolently as it is a goal of my life. With that said, I must says it pains me each time I see gays and lesbians reacting to prop 8 supporters in ways that do us no favors because it uses violence because I value unity in our actions.
First off, I guess I need to describe what I mean when I use the word violence. I am off the school that believes violence can be of the spirit, of the mind and of body. We are violent when we use our spiritual beliefs to oppress others. We are violent when we try to control others via bribery, fear, guilt or shame. We are violent when we shun others into the shadows and deny the qualities that make them human. We see them for the label we have given them rather than the human they are. We see the homo but not the human, we see the christian but not the human. We see the label, name or category but fail to see the person behind the label. So, if you think you are not violent, know we are all violent in our own ways and to our own degrees. For the sake of this article, I am going to steal some imagery from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and refer to violent acts as Jackal and nonviolence as Giraffes. I am doing this for more reasons than Rosenberg would have, but we will get to that later.
Second, I guess I should explain what Nonviolence (Giraffe) is and why it is better than Jackal in protests and social change. You see nonviolence is time proven to be effective. Gandhi, King, Mandela, Chavez have all used nonviolence and civil disobedience to create mass social change. Nonviolence is far from inaction or some passive “ladedada”, it is creative action in motion that refuses to sink to the low levels of jackal, not of mind, not of heart and not of the spirit. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “nonviolence asks us not only we will not hit a man, but we refuse to hate him” regardless that he just told us to “turn or burn.”
Being a giraffe is creative but it seeks to build community and progress not tear others down. It seeks to change hearts and mind by use of a force more powerful than hate and never gives up on the faith that even the most stringent opponent has the potential to change. Giraffe can take the blows of the jackals because the giraffes refuse to see the actions of jackals without considering the person behind those actions. To see the human behind the label.
Next, lets address the reality of Prop 8 for us by acknowledging this is painful. It hurts to be told your love will never be recognized they way straight couples are recognized by our government. We are angry. We hear about equality, we hear about justice but it is hard to buy into these words when you are labeled a second class citizen. Those on the right are having a hard time seeing why marriage is a civil right and we are becoming increasingly frustrated at finding new ways to explain so they will hear. Sadly, I have to say I fail to see how they will hear our needs when we are speaking Jackal language calling them names like bigot and hater. I must say if I wanted to explain something to someone and have them hear it, starting off with a round of name calling doesn’t seem likely to make my opponents feel safe enough to listen to my requests for equality. Chances are we have sent them into “defense” mode or worse, we have frightened them into “I need protection mode” I wonder what they would hear if we respond in giraffe mode rather than jackal. I wonder what they world would think when they see us acting like giraffes and them looking like jackals?
I saw the footage of the older women getting the cross knocked out of her hands. I tried to empathize with her needs and feelings in that moment. I can imagine she was afraid because she valued her safety. I can also imagine she might have felt angry and helpless because she really valued her religious symbols and they were knocked from her hand. On the other side I can empathize with those who knocked the cross our of her hand. They may have felt angry because they needed a space to vent their frustration over prop 8. They may also have felt scared because they needed some emotional safety in their moment of pain. On both sides are human trying to get their needs met. We could play the blame game but where would that get us? We could play the whose right and whose wrong game but I wonder where that would get us. The philosopher Rumi said it best, “in between the ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a place, I’ll meet you there.”
I saw the footage of the church group in the Castro needing a police escort to escape the anger of gays and lesbians who followed the screaming at them to go away. I again can empathize with both sides because I truly value seeing them as humans rather than sides of an argument. I can hear the anger of the Castro residents as they need respect in their space. I can suspect the Christian group was feeling scared and needing assurance of their safety. I could play the “but those people” game or the “they said, he said” game but again, what is to be gained by this? I am reminded of Rumi words a second time.
When you read the stories of the civil rights movement or the stories from the Salt March by Gandhi, one cannot help being moved and inspired how so many people could be united in nonviolence to end injustice. In the Montgomery Bus Boycotts protesters walk for close to 300 days, some for miles in bad shoes. Some faced violence but faced it in love. In the Lunch counter sit-ins, protesters walked into the face of violence and remained firm in their conviction without calling anyone names or fighting back in anyway. The world saw this and change came quickly from it. For Each protester in Gandhi’s march to the salt factory, he trained his protesters to take on the pain of his oppressor in order to shame them. One by one protesters marched forward only to by clubbed down by British soldiers until the soldiers refused to hit another human. It took hundred of tries and human lives being changed, but the soldiers gave into the human factor.
Knowing this history of nonviolence and knowing just how powerful it is leaves me feeling sad each time I see GLBT folks responding to hate in ways that don’t help us. Each time I hear us scream “bigots” in the chants, I cringe as I know that hurts us more than helps. We are not winning our enemy over if we are trying to win against them. King knew it, Chavez knew it, Mandela knew it and Gandhi really knew it. Know we need to learn it and use it if we are going to be free.
Okay, so maybe I have sold you on the idea that we should use nonviolence. You get that is isn’t for the weak, this takes strength and courage. It means crossing lines into the middle of conflict and refusing to react as a jackal when you get there. I may have finally gotten you to see this is not Passive. Gandhi himself hated the term Passive Resistance because he saw nothing passive about what he was doing. I see nothing passive about us taking a stand, but we must choose Gandhi’s idea of Giraffe if we are going to make it work.
I have chosen to borrow Rosenberg’s ideas of Giraffe and Jackal because I am hoping they will give us a symbol and an easy reminder of how we should act. We can choose to be jackals or we can choose to be giraffes. So what are the difference you ask? I am happy to share that answer:
Jackals scream, “hey hey, HO HO, Bigotry has got to go”
Giraffes scream “we are all one” because giraffes know that screaming bigotry has got to go brings up defenses to our listeners. We want them to hear us, not tune us out.
Jackals respond to name calling with more name calling
Giraffes smile and say nothing but a smile that say more than the hateful words ever could.
Jackals play the blame game trying to motivate people with guilt and fear into seeing the world their way.
Giraffes listen and empathize with how hard it is to change values you hold close to your heart.
Jackals scream about winning against the opponent!
Giraffes talk about winning over their opponent!
So I ask you, which do you think will help us more? Being a giraffe or a jackal?
As a side note, I do agree with Jim Burroway that the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, but I also know that the likes of Peter LaBarbera, Matt Barber and Stacy Harp lurk in the background just looking for news ways to use our actions against us. Lets not give them any writing material! (In case you thought I was kidding, here is a new web blog devoted to how Christians are being attacked by homos. They of course will show you a very narrow view of gays and lesbians to make the case “all” of us are out to victimize Christians. They are also playing the victims card which I find odd since they often accuse GLBT folks of the same. Check it out for yourself but respond in kind)
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"Be the change you wish to see in the world"
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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