Violence is most peculiar. Most of the physical violence I endured in my 40 years probably occurred before age 21. Hand full of fist fights, ass whippings and black eyes from Chapman Basketball and pro tryouts.
But the violence I suffered was sometimes in observing other people harmed. Saw my first deceased corpse when I was somewhere around 9-11 years old. A man in his early 20s beat up another guy over a woman and the guy who took the beat down was a sore loser. You know how this story ends. Came back, shot and killed the victor.
Violence showed up and took friends too early and on one occasion I went to the mortuary and stood over my friend wondering how he felt as the slug breached his skull.
Violence felt like masculinity and it was a tool of subjugation to bend and/or break people where I’m from.
Violence’s problem, however, is that no one really has a palate or taste for it. When you were 10, did another 10 year old pull out a knife and try to stab you with it like this kid did me? Your answer doesn’t matter. My point is simply that violence is troubling, disturbing and disintegrating. And there’s something about it that evokes empathetic desperation. In a moment, WE ARE ONE!
In contemplative spirituality, which is not some strange weird term, there is an emphasis on getting away from the dual thinking. They’re wrong and we’re right. They’re the bad guys and we wearin’ these white hats over here. Life is mysteriously joyous and difficult, agonizing and ecstatic. Even within ourselves lies the best and worst versions, no matter what people see or perceive based on outward appearance. Basically, the sinner and the saint reside in the same skin and likewise issues of violence tempt us to take a side when really we should be challenged to advocate against destruction. Pro-police and Pro-Black Lives is not an oxymoron. You can be both because the enemy is really the cultivation of fear of “other” that can lead to brutality, injustice and murder.
There are deeper questions and solutions aroused by violence. And since I have church bones in my body, even clergy ones, I submit that the violent posture in America has been nurtured in many respects by the late Elie Wiesel’s greatest fear – indifferent humanity.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.”
– Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor and author/activist
Many believe that police aren’t trained to understand their communities and therefore overreact with the use of deadly force. Even if this is true, it can’t be true of all police all of the time. But for those police who do overreact, they are struggling with fear that can but doesn’t have to lead to violent overreaction. By the same token, if it’s even somewhat true that African American men don’t like police, then again fear plays a large role in begetting violence. Why? Because both the police officer and the African American male raised in a socially vulnerable environment both have been trained in the expectation and use of violence.
I submit that breaking the cycle of violence as a cultural norm begins with new and intentional role modeling that exhibits traits like forgiveness, truthful and courageous conversation and skills for anticipating and deescalating violence. Violence in my community was not formed in a vacuum, some spontaneously generated phenomenon. I was told to “Knock that nigga out…cuzz,” “Act like you got a pair…” “Get down with this set (local gang) homie ’cause you know what it is out here lil nigga.” Violence modeled itself like a showroom Cadillac.
My PhD research is devoted to role modeling, authentic leadership and self-belief. I can’t help but think that no matter how secure you think your city, town, suburb is, it’s falsely secure if good role models are in short supply. What are the programs in our communities that build bridges between citizens, all citizens? What method are we using to ensure that non-violent responses to injustice get taught early. If you can’t name them or if the strongest influences on our children are inaccessible athletes and entertainers, then there can be no renaissance.
We need role models to counteract our societal tendencies that cultivate violence. It’s loaded but I do believe that if it wasn’t for some significant role models steering me away from violence, I’d have played that dangerous game to completion.