When tragedy happens, the mass media lure us into asking trivial questions that lead us ever further away from the cause. What kind of bullet was he shot with? Where was his mother born? Such superficial questions might boost ratings but they do little to help us put an end to the cultural illnesses of gun and gang violence. How can we get to the root of it? To answer these questions Gandhi offers us two challenges: try to understand nonviolence as a form of health; and secondly, seek the root cause of violence and address that first.
Cure Violence is a US-based organization that has taken Gandhi up on the first challenge he poses to us; that is, to understand nonviolence and violence as a question of public health. Violence, this group says, acts as “an epidemic disease,” and they support their actions with clear research showing the impact of violence on personal and public health. For example, they can show us statistically that violence is often the number one cause of death in inner cities for all young people under the age of 34; or that violence can lead to heart disease, and PTSD.
On the day to day level, their work is in the field of “third party nonviolent intervention” between gang members in inner cities. By interrupting acts of retribution that can lead to more violence and killing, they hold up the nonviolent mirror to the person who may feel compelled to strike back out of a sense of honor or other obligation.
We can see their work on a deeper, constructive level as well when we consider Gandhi’s second challenge. They offering a much needed alternative to violence, and a “way out” of retribution. Former gang members are encouraged to work for the community by redirecting fear and anger–and even channeling their courage to do violence–into meaningful life changes that support the healing of community.
We must always attempt to seek out the cause of violence itself. A lack of a sense of belonging exacerbated by the unjust structures of our society, education that dehumanizes, or as my colleague Michael Nagler would suggest, a misleading sense of what it means to be a human being. Very often, there is simply a lack of alternatives that leaves violence as the only option. When we address these questions, the remedy is always nonviolence, broadly considered: we must change the image of who we are, cultivate radical inclusivity, and re-create our structures to reflect it.
Make a commitment today to always ask the urgent questions about the root causes of violence when reading and listening to the media. Find organizations that address those root causes and support their work.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org