Hit it if it hurts you

I fell in love during our homestay.baby drawing

Alicia was three years old, spunky, outspoken, and loved dressing up in ridiculous outfits. She had a gorgeous smile that she broke out whenever she saw me (or most anyone else, for that matter).

And she hit anything that upset her.

This last trait could be comical at times. One day she tripped on a step and fell on the floor. As she cried out from the pain and from the frustration of having had something go bad, her mother told her to hit the floor. Alicia smacked the floor a good one for having hurt her, and you could tell she felt better.

Don’t we all?

Hitting the floor is the most illogical, ridiculous thing in the world. But in the immediate term, it works. We want to punish. We want to act out, get our revenge, feel like we’re in control, make sure that it is hurt the way that it hurt us.

But if you’re hitting a person and not the floor, it’s a cycle without end. Because if you hit whoever hurts you, they will feel hurt and hit back, which leads you to feel hurt and…you see where that goes.

In places like the slum, where power dynamics are uneven, the cycle is usually a chain rather than a loop. Police with power hit powerless poorer men, who go home and hit their wives, who turn away and hit their children, who lash out at smaller children, who themselves can only target animals and inanimate objects and often build up resentment until they become big enough to hit smaller children, their own children, their wives, or one day maybe even men less powerful than themselves.

Many of us who grew up in the West come from what are sometimes termed “dignity” or “guilt” cultures which have banished physical revenge-taking by personal parties. Instead, we advocate that punishment be meted out systematically by proper authorities. Yet we still have that urge to ensure that someone is punished, that someone gets hurt when we’re hurt. Any look at the red-meat political speech about being “tough on crime” or the threatening manner we often speak about “criminal immigrants” or “rogue nations” shows that clearly. We’ve controlled our retaliatory impulses into an organized system, but they’re still there.

baby from behind drawing

One day when I was sitting in the main room of Alicia’s home, she raised her hand to hit someone who had upset her. My hand shot up, as if I was ready to strike as well. Then, in dramatic slow motion, I turned my hand around and bopped myself in the forehead.

Alicia broke into giggles and bopped herself in the forehead too. And that was the end of that. From that day forward, every time Alicia got ready to hit someone, I would comically raise my hand and she would crack up and hit herself in the forehead instead.

There is a place for discipline, in the home and in society. There is a place for enforcing rules, for discouraging hurtful actions, for creating places of rehabilitation for those who are damaging the lives of the people around them. But as long as a motivation for discipline is vengeance, some basic need to hurt those who have hurt us, then our own grievance will get in the way of reconciliation.

We each need to find ways to channel our anger at violence and injustice into something that isn’t destructive. It won’t usually be as easy as bopping ourselves in the forehead. But if we work hard to find that constructive outlet, it will bring new life.

One of the categories we will be maintaining on this site is “Nonviolent Interventions.” These will be examples of times that we and others have entered into violent situations and attempted to address the violence without lapsing into violence ourselves. Sometimes effectively, sometimes ineffectively, but God willing with something to learn from each one.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another,forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.1

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
Doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.2

Footnotes:

[1] Ephesians 4:31-32
[2] Romans 12:17-21

4 thoughts on “Hit it if it hurts you

  1. I often feel the same way. I think that it’s more often a process built over a LOT of responses….you work to respond better when you can, stop sooner when you didn’t, and develop a better instinctual response slowly over time.

    It isn’t linear progress either, at least not for me, depending on how I’m doing emotionally at the time.

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  2. Your description of the chain of retaliatory vengeance taking is insightful and accurate. We witness this often. Our landlady yells at, and then beats her kids. It is annoying and destructive, but at least I’ve learnt to look behind the beatings for a reason. Surely it is in some ways it is to do with her own powerlessness in the world.
    I wonder what the equivalent of bopping yourself in the head would be for a mum about to beat her kids, or a husband about to take out his vengeance on his wife, or a policeman about to hit a rickshaw puller?

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  3. I like your thoughts there.

    For your last question, I think the go-to in each case is “what can I do that will cost me a little bit, but make ‘everything better’ more effectively than hitting some outside object would?” I think of Andy advising his friend to stop hitting his wife when she hadn’t finished dinner as he came home, and jump into finishing dinner together with her instead. That was surprisingly effective in that case and made them both happier.

    * The mom dives into doing a chore or entertaining her kids rather than hitting them.

    * The husband picks up the task he wished his wife would do instead of hitting her.

    * The police officer has to have some work he can get done in the moment rather than hitting the rickshaw puller.

    In each case the idea is to find a way to “do something” to take up your energy and distract it away from the desire to “do something” to someone else. And since we adults have more rational capacity than little 3-year-old Alicia, we can even make sure that what we do is effective.

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