Monday, December 5, 2011

The way of non-violence

Palmer describes violence as anything which violates the integrity of anotherPalmer person. The examples he gives (e.g., insults, demeaning, treating others as disposable, etc.) make me think that dignity might be a better term than integrity in this definition. Regardless of this minor issue, he points out that a circle of trust can show how abnormal violence really is. This reminded me of a story told by a military chaplain out on patrol with fellow soldiers yet he was the only one without a weapon. One soldier noticed this and remarked that not carrying a gun must feel strange to the chaplain. The unit’s leader corrected the soldier by saying the chaplain “is here to remind us that it’s unusual to be carrying weapons in this world.”

Palmer outlines three options of conflict responses: fight, flee or honour the soul of the other. The purpose of this chapter is to encourage his reader to choose the third way. I think this chapter would be complemented greatly with Ken Sande’s (2004) The Peacemaker : A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Sande is actually an attorney who explores in greater detail what peacemaker responses – as opposed to escape responses or attack responses – can look like. Here is Sande's model.

For Palmer, acting non-violently means holding the tension of opposites long enough to break our hearts open to new ways or ideas; or as he puts it, “until a new vision emerges” (p. 176). I like this idea quite a bit as I tend to shy away from hasty decision-making, especially when it is not clear what to do next. Holding such tension open (i.e. neither fight nor flee) seems to bring more creativity to the surface.

I imagine some situations limit this though. For example, workplace bullying is sometimes called workplace violence. How long does one neither fight nor flee from that? A lack of safety can only be tolerated for so long. Palmer suggests four resources for the person wishing to serve as an agent of non-violent change (p. 171) but I think these should take the direction our moral compass points in the situation.

I do find it surprising how little forgiveness is discussed in this chapter. While it is important to teach on honouring the soul of another as to not enact violence on them, what are we to do with those who bring violence to us? Practicing unforgiveness in the workplace has many expressions: gossiping, workplace deviance, grudges, refusing to trust, exclusion from power, etc. Honouring the soul of an offender is equally important and part of keeping civility. In fact, I would suggest that forgiveness is a pillar moral virtue in Christian spirituality.


Palmer. P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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