Peace to the People

When the Occupy Wall Street movement began over two months ago, I just wasn’t interested. The national political scene mostly tires and annoys me, so I don’t pay much attention.

Then there was the UC-Davis pepper spray incident, apparently not the first of the pepper-spray incidents. How about an 84-year-old woman? But I digress.

There they sat, quiet and stubborn college students; and there they stood, riot-geared tough-faced police.

I don’t know or understand the whole story. I know police work is difficult and complicated. But a scene like this leaves me cold, wondering what in the world we have come to. So do the vicious comments people scream at one another in the cyberspace around such videos.

Contemplating the scene after watching it the first time (and having a good little cry), I saw children all around. Idealistic and strong-willed children sitting on the ground. Threatened and insecure children strutting in their sunglasses and holsters. Simplistically-indignant children shouting “Shame on you!” at the bullies.

But no one stepping out of their pigeonhole. It probably wasn’t the time or place, but it seems we have less and less times and places for people to un-dig their heels and speak with kindness, patience, and genuine interest to one another across ideological lines. (A stream of pepper spray sort-of discourages such things too.)

Most of us have learned from childhood that we must fight to win. Of course, not at home with your sister (“share your toys!”). But in the movies and the storybooks, and definitely in the adult world – we have learned that you can’t prosper if you don’t beat down the bad guys. The good guys win. Not everybody. Only the good guys.

Republicans and Democrats, Tea Partiers and Occupiers, and many of us watching from our comfortable armchairs, are too often colorblind. We can only see ourselves and each other and the world at large in black and white. We line up people and ideas on “good” and “bad” sides, and then we start shooting – or spraying, or shouting. And we miss the depth of colors, the beauty, truth and goodness mingled with selfishness and brokenness in life at every level.

This is not to say we don’t form opinions and speak out for them. Personally, I am glad the Occupixies are doing their thing, and I much prefer this movement to the Democrats and Republicans (and philosophically I prefer it to the Tea Party, but I admire the grass-rootsiness of the TP too). But ultimately, we’re all a little lost, aren’t we? And it probably wouldn’t make things any worse if we practiced more patience and peace, listening and learning.

As I contemplate the UC-Davis pepper-spray scene – from my comfortable armchair – it’s easy to spout grand ideals about peace and love. But in the heat of showdown moments in my own life, I have stood (or sat) in each of those positions. I have sprayed and been sprayed, and I’ve shouted at bullies too. Sometimes, we become so passionate about our ideals or enraged about injustice, or even threatened and impatient, that we do dig in our heels or lash out at others; and I’m not suggesting that we can or even should keep such things from happening at all costs. History has taught us that “good guys,” eager to stop evil on every front, can all too quickly become “bad guys” in their very acts of fighting evil.

Occupy Fort Pierre National Grassland! - a day in our peaceful parenting protest

In discussing environmental and agricultural concerns, Wendell Berry called gardening a “complete action,” because it is not only a symbolic protest but also an actively-implemented solution to the problem it protests. Though I won’t be joining any tent cities, I have realized that I can launch my own protest just as effectively right where I am. I think maybe peaceful parenting, like gardening, is a complete action, and in watching the Occupillars, I am inspired to keep at it.

Today, my family and I look together for the good in each person. Today, we practice love and respect with one another. Today, also, I scream at my children and they push and punch one another. We’re good and bad, and everything in between, but we continue to get back up, apologize, and start over again.

Peace begins at home. But it doesn’t have to end there.

7 Comments

  1. Amen! Peaceful parenting, grandparenting, family life and friendship seem to be the accumulation of daily choices. Thanks for still giving all of us room for our human shortcomings. Nicely done.

  2. I remember hearing about “peace riots” in the 60’s and 70’s, and seeing the pictures of dead students at Kent State. The photo that sticks with me the most is one of students putting flowers in the barrels of rifles pointed at them. It was a scary time. I didn’t really think about how I would raise my kids because I didn’t think I would live that long. Somehow, I survived and my kids turned out ok. They are very thoughtful and considerate people. Only by the grace of God, though.

  3. Thanks all for reading and for your great comments. Jodi, thanks for sharing that article. Loved it!

  4. The coverage of the UC Davis pepper-spraying incident is just another example of the mainstream media misrepresenting the incident for sensationalism. You should take the time to find the Youtube video of the *entire* incident. You’ll see the crowd threatening the police officers and the repeated warnings that if the students do not allow the police officers to leave that they will be pepper sprayed. This was no Kent State moment.

    • Hello Rich – Thanks for reading and commenting here. I agree that the pepper-spray incident was only a moment in the context of a larger event. I didn’t state – or mean to imply – that the police officers were the bad guys, or that the students were innocent. My main point was exactly the opposite – that we could all benefit from listening and genuinely being interested in one another – because in real life, there are very few easy answers, and no purely good or bad people.

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