Learning Peace Talk Through Human Vulnerability

If you read Dmergent, I hope you also read the wisdom produced by the Raven Foundation.  This reflection is based on the rules of violence that Suzanne Ross wrote last week in her article titled, North Korea, Syria, U.S.: Violence Rules.  I hope you read it and absorbed it, but for those who did not here are the three rules of violence:  “Rule #1: Violence Escalates…Rule #2: Only good people use violence…Rule#3 Violence destroys goodness.”  Well I hope that intrigues those of you that did not actually read the article to go back and review these rules, which yes Rule #2 and #3 are in conflict. 

It is however this part that intrigues me the most for I know it to be true:

Humans pick violence up by immersion and so we are all native speakers. From Syria to Korea to Pakistan to Iraq to the U.S., the language of violence is so natural to us that we couldn’t recite one of its “grammar rules”.
Sadly, ignorance of language rules does not diminish fluency. The odd thing is that if we stopped to learn the rules governing our fluency in violence, it would actually make us less fluent. Why? Because the rules of violence reveal an unpleasant reality: We don’t use violence; violence uses us. (Erickson)

It intrigues me because it is so true, but mostly because of my experience of teaching language and communication to my son who has profound communication delay as part of his autism.  This makes me think about how we learn things as a society, and I agree that language, be it spoken, written, body, and otherwise, is how we share our human society with the social other.  So it makes sense when Ross suggests there is a grammar to violence and therefore we need to find the grammar of non-violence and grace.

Therefore, a person with communication delay is not simply someone that not only cannot easily ask for their basic needs, they are delayed in socialization which is achieved by the imitation of the social other, (the adult).  We assume the draw to such language of humanity is automatic and thus “[…] take such a draw, such a movement, for granted, though of course it isn’t automatic, as is evidenced by autistic children, who lack precisely the attraction, the draw the movement toward an adult”[i]  This is where I see great hope.  The grammar of violence is certainly not divine, nor is it integral to humans, but somehow a result of the human reaction to desire, which I would add as Rule #1a, that is violence begins because of a real or perceived desire for the same thing, person, position, etc.

However, we can stop this violence grammar by looking carefully at how we learn it, and I believe there are unique situations that occur that can replace the grammar of violence.  I don’t want you to think my son is perfect, nor do I want you to think that as parents we are not frustrated, saddened, stressed, overwhelmed, and even angry at the difficulties of having a child with autism, by sharing stories of my son.  I share these stories because I have learned about the divine through being a parent, not unlike all parents, and yet with a unique situation based around language.  He does not suffer, save from the pressures from society, and at this time he really doesn't get it so he goes about happy with his unique and rudimentary communication.

So last Halloween we were at a party, where my son was known by most of the children.  There were two new children among the group, and I observed this interaction.  A new boy who was 5 or 6 tried to interact with my son, and while all the other children were used to him not responding or interacting much, this boy noticed my son playing with an inflatable pumpkin.  Well the new boy took it from my son, but as usual AJ did not really care it was gone as he was not engrossed with it (it would have been different if it was a book or letters), and it was obvious the fact that AJ did not react was a disappointment to the new boy.  So much so that he held that inflatable pumpkin for almost an hour, even once putting it on his foot as he played a different game.  My son did not understand the grammar and diffused it by not desiring the object.  This may seem small compared to wars between states, but it demonstrates to me that violence is a learned behavior, and my son’s delay makes it clear we can teach children to not escalate to violence over a desired object that could possibly be shared, or like in this case, not actually desired because the social other does.

So again my son is not perfect and he does get angry.  Well, it was about a year ago when AJ hugged for the first time because he wanted to share the emotion of happiness.  He had played hug as a game, but it was very different the first time I took him to a fitness event with his Headstart class, specifically the huge parachute.  I did not recognize it as a bonding hug on the first time, but it was obvious the 2nd and 3rd time.  It was wonderful.  I suspected that sometimes he was hugging based on other emotions as well, and that become obvious at a Labor Day Picnic.  There was a little girl a year older than him, who was playing with him, and she got in his way, so he hugged her.  She said “He hugged me, He likes me!” with great enthusiasm, however it was obvious to the adults that could see his face that he was angry.  Yet he reacted in the same way that he would when he was happy. 

I don’t want to think we should simply celebrate autism as a better way of thinking or being.  Trust me, it is frustrating, difficult, expensive, and yet it allows us to see a more about humanity’s language of violence and the sacred because it allows us to reflect on humanity’s vulnerability.  In this case we see how delayed communication shows us the way toward the grammar of non-violence and away from the grammar that we take for granted and uses us to perpetuate more violence. 

It is in this vulnerability we can know what God wants for humanity, and often the most vulnerable humans can demonstrate that all of us can actually learn a new grammar.  A grammar of a vulnerable communion, where hugs are the answer when you are glad, angry, sad, happy, or mad--for it would demonstrate a language of love and non-violence. 

This is the language Jesus gives us Christians, by demonstrating vulnerability and non-retaliation when he appears to the twelve and says, “Peace be with you,” and I cannot help but think he hugged them with his scarred hands even though they scattered and betrayed him.  

AJ exploring self in mirror. 

[i] Alison, James. The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. New York:  Crossroad, 1998, pages 27-28.