It’s Damned Hard to Live a Quiet Life, and Other Thoughts

I have been thinking about the philosophy of nonviolence very much lately. The 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March in Washington, D.C., and MLK, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the potential to attack Syria “justifiably,” and the continuous streams of hatred spewing from the mouths of political leaders and espoused journalists are powerful prompts to reflection for me right now. But truly, the prompts are around us every single day on our everyday streets and in our homes, not only here in Arizona, or in my native state and lands of my family and ancestors, Texas and Mexico, or on university campuses and at academic conferences, on the terrain of critical post-colonial, feminist, sustainable, globalized, gender-sensitive, humanistic scholarship…yes, the prompts are ever-present in the world around me.

I believe in nonviolence, studied it with individuals far more worthy of its mantle than I am, and find it the hardest practice in my life. If I work to be true to Gandhi’s teachings of avoiding even the violence in my heart, in my thoughts and beliefs, I am repeatedly humbled. My frequent slips of mind and voice and action which are so readily woven into not only my personality but the norms and attitudes around me, can not be secret or sources of my shame, however. To silence the difficulty of the practice increases the oversimplification of nonviolence into a litany of platitudes and hypocritical smiles and hugs.

If the capacity to refrain from projection and displacement of our foibles and hidden vices and sins were somehow natural for human beings, so much of the ugliness of our social history worldwide would be absolutely different. And the scholarship on postcolonialism and racism might be a better representation of experience and victory than verbose attempts to vindicate one’s voice from privilege and/or association with damned practices.

There are always innocent individuals killed when vindicated ‘strikes’ are made. I am very glad that the president’s expressed belief in the ‘rightful’ need to strike Syria somehow is being taken to the Congress, where the recalcitrance of our legislators to support anything Obama says, does or even looks at…may result in not taking action of this sort. But the simple act of not doing so does not remove the violence in the hearts of so many among whom we live and who call themselves and have even been elected to be called our leaders. Envy, resentment, conscious avoidance, class-stratifying policies and availability of basic needs, as well as supporting ‘good social policy’ for ‘those people’, and political correctness for the sake of one’s privilege–all these are violence in the heart.

All around us we divert and amuse ourselves with the evidence that we are remarkably creative and capable of doing and saying so many things that bring pleasure and joy to each other and ourselves. If we could use our intelligence and creative impulses to speak, act, spend, and interact in ways that bring us together without distinctions of Otherness that privilege or harm…I imagine how different things could be. And so I will keep on keeping on , ‘marching’ not to the sound of my own drummer, but to a beat that I believe is there for all of us to hear. It’s just so noisy with all these things we fill our lives with, and it’s damned hard to choose to live a more quiet life.

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