Martin Luther King, Jr. famously spoke of violence begetting violence.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
It’s wrong to start a cycle of violence, and not just because of the immediate destruction. Often the victim is pulled into the cycle and is overwhelmed by anger. Sometimes the victim becomes the perpetrator of violence either through retaliation or by learning “that’s just the way we’re supposed to respond.” One of the most subtle parts of violence is that the victim may (and often does) internalize a negative view of himself or herself. Long after the physical violence has ended, self-violence continues.
Over a period of time people grow blind to the violence they’re perpetrating. They begin to acclimate and think “That’s just the way things are.”
The good news is that this thinking can be interrupted. It’s not easy. It may take a long time. But the impact of interruptions showing healthier ways of living can make a positive and profound difference.
Reconciliation poetry helps people have language ready to build a new moral imagination for themselves and for their communities.
Click here for a video from the African Great Lakes Initiative that sprung from the Duke Center for Reconciliation. It looks unsentimentally at African cycles of violence and highlights the teachings of three great interruptors (Angelina Atyam, Maggy Barankitse, Paride Taban).