Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fight, Flight or Something All Together Different?

"You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles"
Jesus, Matthew 5: 38 - 41

For the longest time I thought of this saying of Jesus to be one of the hallmark teachings regarding how we, as believers, handle conflict. I even have a recollection from my childhood of being told to "turn the other cheek" when I was being insulted by a bully in the neighbourhood; there seemed to be martyr like nobility (pride?) that went hand in hand with the "sacrifice" of having "gone the extra mile" or passively allowing some oppressive person the advantage over us. It was, after all, the good Christian thing to do.

Now I do not believe that these scriptures have anything to do with conflict "per se", but rather, talk about justice for the oppressed, taking back dignity, and standing for ones convictions. These are all transcendent themes, but broken down, the same principle of dignity could be applied to all our conflicts, whether they be conflicts on the grand scale, like pushing back against the injustice of an oppressive regime, or standing against the bullying of a beligerent neighbour.

It has been said - by all sorts of "gists" (sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, evolutionists) that humans generally have two responses to conflict/oppression - fight or flight. Typically, when we are threathened, we either put up the dukes, and meet violence with violence, or we run away; we either strike in kind or we passively submit to injustice. Jesus abhorred/s both responses.

According to Walter Wink (Catholic New Time, February 13, 2005) when the King James bible was first translated, the word "antistenai" was tranlated as "resist not evil", which basically resulted in an intrepetation of docilitiy, instead of the more truer "non violent resistance". So what DID Jesus mean when He said "do not resist the evil person"? First, it is important to note that the "evil person" refered to is one who uses violence to oppress. So, more properly, He was saying "do not retaliate against violence (or the violent oppressive person) with violence."

In every case, Jesus is referring to a regime, government, organization, or system that is violent and oppressive, and in the culture of the day, He was talking about either or all of the occupiers (Roman government and the Roman soldiers), as well as the oppressive ruling class of Jews, who lorded it over the regular folk. In other words, as Walter Wink would say, Jesus was referring to the "powers that be". And who was Jesus talking to when He spoke these words? He was talking to those who were being oppressed - the poor, women, lepers, and the regular folk who "had burdens placed on them" by the ruling classes, including the rich Jewish ruling class and the Roman occupiers. So it is in this context that these scriptures need to be understood.

So, what did He mean when He said "turn the other cheek"? And why the reference to the RIGHT cheek, which naturally leads to the "other" cheek being the LEFT. Why the specificity? Why did He not simply say "if someone hits your cheek, turn to him the one he did not hit".

First, in those days, as it is now, it is a right handed world. How does one strike one on the right cheek with the right hand? Certainly, in that culture, it would not have been with an open left palm...using the left hand was reserved for "unclean things". That is one of the reasons left handedness was so scorned in days of old. So, to use the left hand to strike someone meant you were using your unclean hand and the humility was on you, not them! Moreover, it was technically against the law to strike anyone with an open palm or closed fist; it certainly was against the law to strike an equal; the only "lawful" strike was when a superior struck his/her subordinate, and the only way permitted by law was with the back of the right hand. A backhanded slap on the right cheek...the instrument of humility and degradation.

The key is that one was only allowed to strike a subordinate (slave owner striking slave, husband striking wife, parent striking child, Roman striking Jew, rich Jew striking poor Jew, aristrocrat striking regular folk) Because of this, by backhanding someone on the right cheek you were saying "you are less than me, less than human, I have power over you, to degrade and humiliate you".

When Jesus told those who were being backhanded in this humiliating way to "turn to them the other cheek also", He basically was saying "steal their power and take it for yourself". First, the very act of "turning them the other cheek" meant that they turned their face back towards the oppressor and looked them in the eye...this is the act of an equal. Secondly, by turning the left cheek as an invitation for another strike, they were essentially saying "try again, you failed the first time, you have not achieved your intended effect, I am not humiliated, I am not degraded, you have not stolen anything from me, I do not give you power over me, and in fact, I am your equal and I dare you to strike me again".

If the oppressor was to strike again in the same backhanded manner, he would be breaking the law (something very undignified in that strict Jewish culture); so the only alternative would be to strike the offered left cheek, which meant he would have to use either an open right hand slap, or a closed right hand fist, which would have been an admission to the person whom they had backhanded that "you are now my equal". A bit of a quandary, and Jesus knew it!

So, Jesus was neither saying "fight", nor was He saying "be passive and docile". He was teaching a whole new, and revolutionary thing about taking back power, and realizing dignity. To the people of the day this teaching was radical! He was telling them YOU ARE EQUAL to all those who oppress and rule over you, and here is how you balance the power. More about that (power) when I post next on what He meant when teaching about giving up your coat, and going the extra mile. Then I'll summarize it all on how understanding power and understanding what Jesus was teaching, can translate into our day to day dealings with conflict and oppression.

Oh, this is fun!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More on Non Violent Communication

A few posts ago I made a recommendation for a book that I've been reading (and studying) called Non Violent Communication, A Language of Life, by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It has me excited!

I've read the book, and a couple of others on the same subject, also published by PuddleDancer Press, and have now found a Compassionate Communication network here in BC. The network is a group of people, all of whom value this type of life giving communication; they offer training, and practise groups all over the province. I found my training event, an 8 week session that starts in April!! Compassionate Communication is the perfect compliment to the conflict resolution training that I've just completed, and am sooo excited to be taking my learning to another plain.

So, what exactly is Non Violent Communication (NVC) or Compassionate Communication?? And how does it speak "life"?

The premise is that all behavior is in direct link to a other words, we act because we need. And we seldom truly know what that need is, that drives our behavior, which in the case of communication, is our reaction to things we see or hear. We see or hear something, a feeling is generated, that feeling is linked to a need we have, and depending on what that need is, and whether it is or is not being fulfilled, we then "behave" or "react" accordingly. Sound complicated?

Let me demonstrate; this is a little, true life experience that happened just last week and the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. LOL.

On Thursday, I had a papt test (I happen to suspect that I have no male readers), and when I got home from work, in the kitchen, puttering alongside Jim, I commented "my day started with a papt test" and his response? "big deal". Can you visualize my reaction?

I was immediately, and I mean, instantly, ticked off...mad even and my words demonstrated that. The reaction was so instant, like it was a default position. Jim and I had one of our typical "bicker" sessions, nothing too hurtful or destructive, but all the same, not life giving.

Later, I got to thinking about NVC, pondering the questions that NVC teachs you to ask, such as, what was I feeling when I first heard Jim say "big deal" and what need was the "trigger" for that feeling. Now, it's obvious that I was feeling "ticked" or "angry", but those feeling are usually self protective, "cover" feelings, that cloak what is really going on. So I unpacked it more,and got down to what it was I was needing, which is always the "heart of the matter". When I heard "big deal", I was hurt because I value (need) understanding and empathy expressed through verbal affirmation. Rather than express that I was hurt because I value understanding and empathy, and make a request for same, I reacted in anger, making a demand for same. The best defense to hurt feelings is offending someone elses.

Once I was able to discern that my need for understanding and empathy had not been met and that was why I reacted the way I did, I was able to give myself the compassion and empathy I needed; I was also able to ask God for it. Once I dealt with my own feelings, I was then free to hunch out Jim's...what unmet need compelled him to react to my initial comment the way he did? Again, after pondering, it occurred to me; out of respect for him, I'll not go into detail, but suffice it to say, I tend to complain alot, while he seldom complains at all. I tend to see the negative while he usually sees the positive, and this "complaint" about my papt was just one more thing. This realization opened up a whole prospect of how I can contribute in a healthy way to the life of our relationship.

That essentially is NVC...see/hear a behavior, note the feeling it compels, determine the need the feeling relates to, and make a request that enables that need to be met. And once you've taken care of your feelings and needs, take the same care and compassion towards the other persons feelings and needs.

Like I said, life giving!

Why is this life giving? Because God created us in His image; this means that we are built to want to meet peoples needs; as the blood drive says, "it's in us to give". We do not respond to demands, but we almost always want to go the extra mile to meet a need, including, and hopefully, especially, the needs of those we love. So when we learn how to suss out our needs, how our needs compel our feelings, and how our feelings compel our words, and deeds, we are so much closer to living and speaking true "life" giving life.