Recently a fairly open discussion another adult and I had with some teenagers took a few interesting turns (no surprise there!).
One person in the group talked a little about the experience of being on the brink of some serious temptation, turning away from it, and realizing with joy how much you have protected and how much freedom you have gained by pulling back from the temptation.
So some others wanted to pursue that theme. One brought up the temptation to fight. There were a couple there who have had problems with fighting in the not-so-distant past; and there were a couple others (at least) who have similar problems with the temptation to commit verbal or emotional violence.
So I asked how they handle it when someone is violent toward them, or there is some other intense pressure to get belligerent. There was some popcorn interaction. “Just don’t fight back.” “You mean you just take it?” “Seems to me Jesus said something along those lines.” “Yes, ‘Turn the other cheek.'”
Now my relationship with these kids is not in an environment where the word “nonviolence” gets used or where any formal theory of nonviolence is taught or training in nonviolence happens. Their further responses were just from their own experiences trying to live a little more according to what they perceive the Lord wants from them.
I asked, “Have you done that? Does it really work – turning the other cheek?”
One said he’d done it. I said, “And you got beat to a pulp?” He said no.
The cool thing is they went on to give examples of when they had refused to retaliate, ranging from getting slugged at school and walking away (which elicited an apology from the slugger to the sluggee) to returning a compliment for an insult (which elicited a “whatever” from the insulter).
Wow. Where do they get the power to do that?
And they were pretty insightful about the gains from resisting the temptation to retaliate – gains in personal peace and self-esteem, and sometimes gains in terms of an improved relationship with the instigators of violence against them.
I was really impressed. And I was very pleased with some other comments, unrelated to issues of violence and retaliation, from these teens.
I believe in the power of intercessory prayer (a power certainly not completely under our control!). I believe in the power of the Spirit and of the Gospel to change people from the inside out. I believe in the power of Biblical ideas to stimulate real moral growth and insight. I believe in the power of just paying honest, respectful attention to people who don’t get a whole lot of healthy attention elsewhere. And my time with these young people reinforced all those beliefs in me.
And it gave me a lesson in the practical relevance of nonviolent approaches to real life situations – lessons that they themselves deduced from, and recognized in, Scripture and applied independently in their own lives. This is very interesting to me, and very pleasing.