**This is part 4 of a 4-part series by Jeriah Bowser. Read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.**
Jeriah Bowser is a wilderness guide who teaches primitive living skills to people. He writes provocative and progressive articles for The Hampton Institute, and has a propensity for challenging not only the status quo, but the avant garde. Anarchist, Satyagrahi, healer, writer, primitivist.I will be the first to admit that I am no Jedi master of nonviolence. It is an ideal which I daily strive to
Who Would Jesus Shoot?
manifest, and yet seem to hourly miserably fail at. The times when I actually do actively love people when I want to respond with aggression or pacifism are beautiful moments, indeed.
One such example happened last night, actually! I was at a local coffee shop with some friends, enjoying some tea and live music, and there was a severely inebriated man who was heckling the musician and causing a general ruckus. I chose to engage in his story and approached him, while my wife got him a coffee. After a bit of lively conversation, I gathered that Howard had nowhere to sleep for the night and was planning on robbing people to buy more alcohol to stay drunk all night. I decided that in the best interests of him and the community, it would be best if that plan was not carried to completion.
As I stepped out of the coffee house to call the shelter and see if they could take him for the night, I watched the owner of the place walk over to Howard and begin asking him to leave. After a minute of watching the body language of the two, I had a feeling that Howard was becoming very escalated and this situation was about to become very violent and out of control. I quickly stepped back in and tried to gently inform the store owner that his customer was very drunk and not responding to his approach very well. I asked him if I could speak to Howard for a minute and try to help him leave the shop, as the detox unit was on their way to pick him up. He agreed, and I spent the next few minutes trying to deescalate him and gain his trust, so that we could walk out of the store, as opposed to the police coming in and arresting him, which would definitely end disastrously.
This turned out to be a difficult task, as Howard was already escalated and aggressive. I could feel my anxiety and fear increasing, as he could have easily swung at me at any moment. I had to keep reminding myself that he was my brother who was hurt and confused, or else my ego and fear would have taken over and I would have responded to his aggression with my own.
I slowly and gently helped him stand up and walk out of the shop, where the detox unit was waiting for him. After a brief exchange with the police where I coldly asked them what would happen to Howard and made them assure me that he would be taken care of, Howard and I shook hands and I walked back in the store to finish my tea.
I had barely picked up my cup when I overheard the store owner speaking to a police officer, saying that he was going to press charges on Howard for threatening him. I was very upset at this turn of events, as I felt that the store owner had approached Howard very aggressively and had escalated him to an aggressive state as well. I do not believe that pushing someone deeper into the system is an effective way of helping heal an illness. I had a brief conversation with the store owner, where I asked him to not press charges, as it was not helpful to anybody but satiating his own bruised ego. He respectfully ignored my request, and I became very upset and angry at him, complaining to my wife and friends how much of a jerk he was being.
Now, lets examine the different stories that happened last night. There is the story of Howard, of whom I unfortunately do not know much about why or how he ended up where he was last night, in the state he was in. Yet from my brief interaction with him I gathered that he was very accustomed to being treated as less than human, and was no stranger to police brutality or being kicked out of establishments. One can argue that he chose his life and the consequences that come with it, and I would argue that every man is my brother, and no living creature should ever be treated in that way, no matter what their life choices are.
There is the story of the store owner, whom I also don’t know much about. From my conversations with him and hearing his employees describe him, I have gathered that he is a very high-strung, demanding employer who is constantly worried about keeping his small business afloat, and was worried that a drunk heckler might endanger his business and his reputation. He is probably very familiar with situations like that, and doesn't have time to sit down and talk to every drunk or deranged person who comes into his store.
And then there is my story. I have an innate sympathy towards marginalized and oppressed people, and an innate distrust of any authority/power figure, whether that be a business owner, a police officer, or government entity. This is something that I must be aware of, as it affects how I approach people and situations. I approached this situation with an automatic sympathy for Howard, and an automatic distrust of the store owner and the police unit who came to pick him up (it was a huge compromise for me to even call the detox unit, but there was no other option for him at the time, and I figured it would be better at this stage then in a few hours when he had robbed someone.)
When I saw the store owner engaging Howard in an aggressive way, I saw a story about to unfold that involved violence, arrests, and spilling my tea. I felt that I could diffuse the situation in a non-violent way that would be beneficial for all parties, and so I stepped in and attempted to use my de-escalation skills to write a different story. And on a very basic level, I succeeded. There are many layers to this story that one could dissect and critique, and I will be the first to admit that there are many other things I could have done, and Howard will, unfortunately, probably be on the street again in a week or so. However, for the purpose of this discussion, a violent situation was avoided and Howard is hopefully getting the help he needs right now.
But what about my interactions with the store owner and police? I didn't validate the owner's feelings and experience at all, I labeled him as an oppressor who was trying to shove someone further into the system, and never let him out of that box. I was hostile and distrustful to the police, and interrogated them on what would happen to Howard and what his rights were. I repeatedly complained about the store owner pressing charges to my wife and friends, until my wife finally told me to shut up. Although I created peace in one area, I simultaneously created division in several others.
I guess the moral of that story is that it is never easy. Even Gandhi constantly struggled to maintain his objective and loving view of the British as he was fighting against them, and was constantly reminding himself that he was fighting for truth, not against people. And… it is possible!
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” wrote Anne Frank.
If all I have done by writing these articles is stimulate a few neurons and tickle your altruistic fantasies, then I have failed. There are thousands of opportunities for you to practice non-violence in your world today. Now I invite you to share your stories, questions, hopes, fears, and insecurities and opinions on non-violence, that crazy rabbi Yeshua, and how to apply his teachings to this crazy world we share.