I consider myself something of a pacifist. I abhor violence, don’t see the appeal of potentially bloody sports like boxing or mixed martial arts, and wish we would spend more energy on promoting collaboration rather than celebrating competition, which always involves a loser as well as a winner, and which to date has played such a central role in shaping our society.
Does one person have to lose for another person to win? What does winning really mean and is there a way that we can re-define it? Can we agree that true winning means that all parties involved benefit? Is that even an achievable goal? Is it realistic to suggest that as a society we should move away from a win/lose binary system that is so deeply entrenched in our psyches?
Christianity and I parted ways long ago, but I still sometimes ponder what Jesus meant exactly when he said: “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”. Seems to me this is an invitation to be stepped on. And as someone who has struggled to stand up for myself, this is all too close to a call to passivity and apathy – which in my mind facilitated the spread of ideological viruses like nazism and racist apartheid policies. The result of turning the other cheek is that people DO step all over you, given half a chance. And they end up defining the world we live in, while we become ineffective, largely powerless pawns.
So, how to live a virtuous life without bending our will to every person who challenges us? I think it takes a change in attitude, and a move away from the individualist approach that much of Western society has embraced. It means seeing each moment, each interaction as an opportunity to build something together, to work together, to collaborate. And to recognize the humanity in the other person. It means seeing ourselves as connected.
Often I think people act in inconsiderate ways, not because they are necessarily malicious or out to get us. But because many of us are motivated by selfish impulses – if not always then at least at times. We don’t necessarily take that extra moment to consider the impact of our words and actions on those who walk alongside us. We must actively combat this within ourselves if we are serious about promoting peace and respect.
Of course, there are limits. We are each responsible for our own actions. I cannot reasonably be expected to help every needy person who crosses my path. And not every needy person has the right to expect that of me. The approach I’m proposing demands that we give up our sense of entitlement, our sense that the world owes us a living and that everyone else is responsible for making us feel good or bad. We must each take claim to our own lives and set in motion the actions and attitudes that best serve us – without infringing on the rights of others to live a life of dignity and respect.
In terms of fighting back, what does this mean? For me, it means that when I’m confronted with ignorance or a lack of charity from others, I will not resort to knee-jerk reactions of rage and vengefulness. That path has the potential to lead me astray too easily. And it benefits no one in the long term. Instead, I will “turn the other cheek”, not by giving into the hate or cynicism I’m confronted with, or by being reduced to silence, but by not fighting back with similar hate or cynicism. I will continue to speak my truth, with kindness, and love, and I will continue to be open to other points of view.
I will not see myself in adversity to others. Instead, I see us as co-conspirators in the construction of the world. The world needs more kindness. Standing up for that is my way of fighting back.