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  • Writer's pictureDé Bryant, Ph.D.

Part II: Challenge not accepted.

I was riding my bike the other day thinking about this question of nonviolence. A woman was walking toward me on the same narrow sidewalk. I could tell by her expression that she had already decided our meeting was going to be a confrontation. Not in the sense of throwing me off my bicycle, but in that head shaking, finger wagging, hip cocked way that so frequently masquerades as conversation. Due to my skillful ridership, she and I ultimately passed one another without incident, but the encounter crystallized my thinking.

              When that woman was walking toward me, daring me to battle for her side of that strip of concrete, her challenge triggered something in me. For the briefest instant a very real and totally primal impulse rose and replied in kind. She heard the howl. It was clear in her stride. For the span of a breath – two breaths at the most – the morning balanced on the knife edge.

              Then I remembered the sanctity of anger. I was raised as a military brat during the early attempts to integrate the armed forces. (I am here to testify that the Great Social Experiment was deeply flawed.) I learned over those years that not every battle deserved my fiery attention. Anger has transformative power, especially when it morphs into rage. Its heat can purify, preparing the way for something new to be rebuilt. In this process of creation, my anger — and when unleashed, my rage — is sacred.

              I also learned that I could choose when to engage. I ask myself, "Whose problem are you choosing to use up your transformative power?"  If the answer is that I am expending my power on someone else’s problem, the next question is, "What can I hope to accomplish by taking on their burden?

              All the activists I know --- and I include myself in this company --- are driven individuals. We are dedicated to the ideal of social justice. We are willing to work tirelessly, without ceasing (and many times without pay) to bring about the world that we envision leaving to the seventh generation beyond our own. This, our greatest strength, is also the razor in our collective apple. 

              How do I balance on that knife edge? How can I choose peace in the moments before confrontation seems not only inevitable but also a biological imperative?  By being in the heart of myself. I was riding my bike, legs pumping, hair flying, coat flapping. And even though that ordinary moment had brought me up close and personal with one of humanity’s most potentially destructive traits, I still chose not to pick up that woman's burden.

              Another day, in a different moment the outcome might have been different. I am an imperfect being. But I decided it was not going to happen that day.

 

 

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