When I was 13, my younger sister and I came across a couple of neighbor boys throwing rocks at a bat lying injured on the ground.

Outraged, my little sister flung herself at them and began pulling them away in order to protect the bat.

I helped.

Backing away, these boys mocked us for our actions. Dumb Girls.

Although we stopped the stoning, there was little else we could do other than find the bat a safe hollow in a tree where it hopefully either recovered or died with dignity.

Our rage was instinctual and our young hearts grieved what we saw as senseless violence.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that call for the protective use of force.

Marshall Rosenberg reminds us that, “The intention behind the protective use of force is to prevent injury, never to punish or to cause individuals to suffer, repent or change.”

Furthermore, he names two significant differences between a violent act and a nonviolent act:

  1. You don’t see an enemy in the other person or people

  2. Your intention is not to make the other side suffer

Although I definitely saw those boys as the enemy, I never wished them further suffering or harm. I’ve had a deep innate understanding that people repeat the things that were done to them, and feel tremendous compassion for that.

(James Gilligan has some excellent insights in Violence: A Deadly Epidemic and Bruce Perry’s book The Boy Who Was Raised as Dog also opened my heart to people who behave in violent and un-empathic ways by detailing the various things that can happen to brain development in childhood.)

Working on not seeing them as an enemy however, is an ongoing practice for me. Whenever I see someone as dangerous, or beyond my current capacity to “take on,” my default defense is to turn them into something bad, to reduce them to a label: for example, (said with derision and contempt) those violent boys; those antisocial boys, men in general.

Once labeled, I then usually avoid them and talk about them with other safer people (those more like me, of course).  Nice.

As soon as I turn other people into a “them,” I make the important tasks of compassion, empathy and connection much more difficult.

It takes intentionality and practice for me to keep seeing the systems and structures that create inequity of power as “wrong,” but to keep seeing the essential humanity of the people who are trying to function and survive within those systems.

Peacemaking – with ourselves, others, and socially – requires our ability to engage with conflict in new ways, not to avoid conflict.

Gene Sharp has a fabulous sheet on 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action that I find very useful when I am longing for new strategies and ideas to live in alignment with my values. I also recommend Jamila Raquib’s TED talk, “The Secret to Effective Nonviolent Resistance.”

The work of reconnection, of compassion, of serving and protecting life and the well-being of ourselves, others and all beings, is hard work.

As Marshall so eloquently says,

“Peace requires something far more difficult than revenge or merely turning the other cheek; it requires empathizing with the fears and unmet needs that provide the impetus for people to attack each other.

Being aware of those feelings and needs, people lose their desires to attack back because they see the human ignorance leading to those attacks.

Instead, their goal becomes providing the empathic connection and education that will enable them to transcend their violence and engage in cooperative relationships.”