Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
The Grace of Emmanuel Pahud

Limiting Options

When our twins were around 18-months to 3-years old, I could clearly understand the case for corporal punishment. They were able to do things that seriously endangered their life (like run out into the street) or the well-being of their family (like constantly bite their twin) but were unable to listen to or learn from my explanation for why they shouldn't do these things. It seemed obvious to me that spanking was the only way to change their behavior.

But when I discussed my conclusions with my husband, Dan, to my surprise he didn't agree. "I just don't think it's ever right to hit someone who is smaller and weaker than you," he said. And when he put it that way, I had to agree. Once hitting was off the table, we discovered there are all sorts of other ways to correct your toddler's behavior. I hadn't considered these options--I hadn't bothered to investigate them, to learn about them--as long as I was willing to consider spanking.

This experience taught me first-hand one of the fundamental insights of non-violence. Because we are humans, violence is often our gut-level response to any problem. It is easy to convince ourselves that it is the only response to a problem because it is the easiest one to think of, and it has a funny way of crowding out other solutions. But when we take violence off the table, when we eliminate violence from our possible responses to situation, we discover a whole world of other options. Our creativity steps in to build a world of solutions as soon as we take violence off the table.

I'm reminded of a story told at the wedding of dear friends. The groom's brother, an artist, described an exercise in a painting class where the students were instructed to paint using only one color. At first the project seemed impossible, but then, the creativity of the class exploded. Somehow, by limiting options, imagination found new and fertile ground.

I don't, of course, know anything, really, about the work of professional interrogators. I don't really want to know more about their work than I already do. I understand the impulse to let they have all the tools they could possibly need to do their job. Let them decide--they are the experts. I really don't need to know. (And here the closing scenes of Munich are haunting....)

But in my gut, I know this response is a cop out. I do know something about violence--we all do. I know that when the "last resort" options are no longer options, we find other ways to act, other ways to work. And I am heartened by the many testimonies by former interrogators I've read over the past year who have quite clearly explained that there are other options--many of them more effective, all of them more humane. The article in the Post's Outlook section today by Judge Evan Wallach ("Water-boarding Used to Be a Crime") is just one more voice in a growing chorus.

We've sold our car with the bumper sticker that read, "Who Would Jesus Torture?" But I feel more strongly than ever that this country needs to be clear with itself and with the world that torture of prisoners is not an option. Attorney General nominee Mukasey may be able to slither past this issue, but as a Christian, I know I can't.

Comments

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Ann Ivester

It seems to me that torture and violence are rooted in fear and a sense of helplessness. If we can face our fears and recognize that we are not helpless, that we have the power to confront our fears with other options--with hope and compassion and imagination and trust in God's presence--then we may be able to step back from our instinctive resort to violence and create a world of peace.

real live preacher

I've had three kids, and we didn't strike any of them. There were so many pressure points and places of leverage to use. We never had trouble with discipline. We just didn't use physical types. They're fine and I feel clean.

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