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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Passive? Or At Peace?

In society in general, we often see problems with anger. There are industries of anger management experts who tell us that we need to control our anger, and can control it with learning. Churches tell us to model ourselves after Jesus, who was kind and gentle and would forgive those that trespass, and turn the other cheek. Pacifists tell us that we should use peaceful means of passive resistance in order to fight injustices.

But we should not forget that the passive resistance of pacifism is not peaceful, simply because it is passive. The opposite of peace is not simply "war." No, actually the opposite of peace is *discord*. We should not forget that the operative word in "passive resistance" is not "passive" but "resistance." Resistance is discord, by however means. Passive resistance is every bit a resistive act, a focus on , a calling attention to, a significant discord. It is an expression or communication of displeasure, veiled behind the kind and gentle.

The crucially important thing in passive resistance as practiced by pacifists, is that the resistive act is combined with an explanatory act-- some direct explanation of the purpose of the resistance. Otherwise it represents a critical disfunction-- if you come across a group of people sitting down in the street for example, and ask them, "why are you doing this?" and they DON'T tell you anything, then it is left up to you to infer the purpose-- it is a blank slate that onlookers will likely project either their fears or their hopes upon, and consequently the resistive act becomes a misrepresentation of its intent. The resisters should not then be surprised if their act is portrayed as widely in variance with their intent, as they did not make their intent clear.

It is true that the outward expression of anger can make things worse in some circumstances. But the passive expression of anger without an associated intent, can be far more insidious, and can also make things worse but via a disconnect between the cause and effect so that the expression of anger has been somewhat anonymized-- anger is directed, but its recognition may be delayed and the source has been disguised under a mask of passivity. Passive resistance is no less a hostile act merely because it is labelled "passive."

Does that mean that, as pacifists, we should give up the use of passive resistance as a means of expressing our displeasure? Certainly not, but we should realize that one's passive resistance does not make one a saint, that it is not the turning of the other cheek or the forgiveness of trespasses, that even passive resistance is a discordant act that is in fact, an outward expression of anger. We should not confuse passive resistance with peacefulness. And we should always insure that the intent of the resistive act is made exceedingly clear.

Perhaps it is useful in this context to consider the role of anger. Those who strive for peace may not be able to achieve it without the expression of anger. And anger does have its legitimate and illegitimate forms. While it is not good to let anger rage out of control, it is also not good to restrain anger to the point that it transforms itself into insidious and harmful forms. There are times when the straightforward outward expression of anger may be more honest and more productive than the covert anger expressed by passive resistance.