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The Case for Non-violent Responses to Y2K Disruptions


by Peter Ediger


Y2K, whether it brings minor personal tremblings or major societal quakes, presents us all with an opportunity to consider basic issues which are always "there," but not often consciously addressed. Among them are several sets of questions:

1) Who am I? Who is the "Other?" How are we related?
2) What is the good life? How is my well-being related to the well-being of the "Other?" When am I truly alive? What keeps me alive? What keeps the "Other" alive? Is my aliveness a support or a threat to the aliveness of the "Other?" Is the "Other's" aliveness a support or a threat to my aliveness?
3) How do we prepare for our security in a time of crisis? How is my security related to the security of the "Other?" Is violence against the "Other" an option? Is it effective? Is nonviolence an option? Is it effective?

While these questions cannot be explored in depth in this brief essay, they are posed to invite thoughtful readers to enter into another important process in preparation to potential crisis, whether it be Y2K or some other less or more dramatic situation which the human community will face in the future. In addition to giving our best thought and energy to preparation for our physical survival and well-being in times of crisis, we need to give similar thought and energy to preparation for our spiritual survival and well-being.

The urgency of this need confronts us in the rhetoric of certain Y2K survivalists who advocate stockpiling of firearms for use against neighbors in the event of crises involving shortage of food, water or whatever. This approach presents us with a profound spiritual challenge. Will we sacrifice our human spirit of compassion and mutual communal care for the sake of our own physical survival? Are we buying into the mythology of us-against-them? Does such supposed self-interest really serve the Self? Or is such thinking illusory and ultimately self-destructive?

It is particularly troubling that some of the voices advocating violence against neighbors in need seeking help are clothing themselves in biblical language, and sometimes even in the name of the one who said "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" Indeed, what is gained and what is lost in an individualistic survivalist approach to human crises is a crucial question. When we take the most precious gift of our lives -- our human spirit, our soul -- and sacrifice that for whatever reason, have we not lost everything?

By now readers will sense this writer's leanings regarding the questions posed. I believe there is an alternative to violence for the assurance of our survival. Indeed, I believe our very survival depends on our seeking and following that alternative. That alternative is not easily encapsulated in a work or a phrase. It is more clearly expressed in a way of life, a way of life lived by men and women such as Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Mohandes Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and many others. The word most often used to describe that way of life is nonviolence, or as some prefer, active nonviolence.

While the creative power of nonviolence is being increasingly recognized in today's world, vestiges of misconceptions remain in popular thinking. Therefore we need to state clearly what nonviolence is not. Nonviolence is not uninvolved, not ineffective, not utopian, not unrealistic, and not avoiding of conflict. Nonviolence is active, is involved, is effective, is practical, is realistic, and is ready to engage conflict.
Nonviolence is based on spiritual principles. Martin Luther King summarized six principles of nonviolence as follows:

1) nonviolence is not for cowards -- it does resist;
2) nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent, but to win his friendship, to create the beloved community;
3) nonviolence directs its energy against the forces of evil, not against persons who may be doing evil;
4) nonviolence is willing to accept suffering rather than inflict suffering;
5) nonviolence not only refuses to shoot, but also to hate, the opponent;
6) nonviolence has deep faith in the future, believing that the universe is on the side of justice.

These principles reflect a belief in a creative force at work in the universe seeking to bring disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.

For this writer, the life of Jesus is a most compelling expression of nonviolence, and the beatitudes of Jesus a beautiful and provocative statement of what the good life is all about. I see them as foundation stones for living the way of nonviolence. Those foundation stones include

· humility, recognizing our need;
· mourning, having the capacity to feel pain;
· the understanding that power lies in gentleness;
· a deep passion for justice;
· the exercising of mercy;
· purity of heart;
· peacemaking;
· willingness to suffer for the truth

Persons living this life are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. It is significant to note that these are not stated as moral imperatives, as "shoulds," but as that which brings the good life, as that which is in our ultimate self-interest.

Now, what does this all have to do with Y2K? The most important answer to that question will come from you, the reader. You have the option of choosing to take the questions seriously and involve yourself in the challenging quest for answers that are authentic for you, or to ignore them. If, as I hope you will, you choose to pursue the quest for a nonviolent way of life in general and the quest for nonviolent responses to Y2K in particular, I offer the following suggestions:

1) Recognize that the questions have no quick, easy answers. They invite serious examination over a period of time; actually, a lifetime.
2) Form or join a group of persons interested in exploring further the spirituality and practice of nonviolence. The journey into living nonviolence is not a "solo" act.
3) Read and discuss the writings of pioneers in nonviolence, from the Hebrew prophets to the gospels to practitioners of nonviolence through the centuries and in our time.
4) Experiment and explore with others specific applications of the principles of nonviolence in real life situations.
5) Contact organizations in your area or at regional or national offices which offer resources on nonviolence. Among such groups: Pax Christi, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and some churches. You may also contact this writer at the address below.

Peter Ediger
Pace e Bene Franciscan Nonviolence Center
1420 West Bartlett Avenue
Las Vegas NV 89106


Peter Ediger is the author of "The Prophets Report on Religion in North America" and co-author of the pamphlet "Market Culture and Sacredness."

Peter is a poet, peace activist, and staff member of the Pace e Bene Franciscan Nonviolence Center, and has been involved in nonviolent witness/actions for four decades.


From "Y2K: You Can Burn This Book" by Thomas F. Potter, available for $16.95 postpaid from or 1-800-851-4905. Used with permission.