One of the most emblematic and powerful values of the Quaker faith is nonviolence. From our earliest days in England, Quakers stance against physical violence as a means of solving disputes has put us in jeopardy and difficulties both with the local government and others in the community.
Quakers have at great personal inconvenience and risk have refused military service, even during times of forced conscription. We've opted for imprisonment and difficult alternative service rather than take up arms.
More than simply refusing to fight, Quakers have historically sought to eliminate the cause of war. Our activist and service arm in the States, the American Friends Service Committee, has worked in all manner of conflict situations at home and abroad to try and bring reconciliation to parties in conflict, teaching the principles of nonviolence, and supporting the foundations of human rights, economic development and community and promote peaceful coexistence.
I have always found this stance against physical violence at times difficult to live out. I enjoy a good action film, including martial arts flicks like "Ong Bak" and "Drunken Master," and war movies like "Saving Private Ryan." I've played my share of violent video games, listened to hours of "gangsta rap" and read some blood-filled scifi in my day. There's a definite attraction to violence that I'm far from immune to.
As I get older, I do find that "meaningless" violence more abhorent than entertaining. I have no interest in seeing a film like "Kick Ass," which highlights the character of a pre-pubescent female artfully killing grown men. I have difficulty even watching the cut-scenes of the latest "God of War" series, which depicts various beheadings, eviscerations and other brutalities.
I worry about young people being inured to violence in their lives, both through being exposed to fictionalized and real violence around them. The only antidote it seems to me is to expose them to the real joys and pleasures of kindness, service, culture, and community.
We all want respect, recognition, a sense of achievement, agency. Violence is one way to achieve those aims, but only one. It's attractions will always be there, I think. So the real challenge is to ensure that the opportunities to achieve those goals through more socially beneficial means are available to all.
I'd like to think that my work at Global Kids is helping to accomplish that goal for our teens. The high schoolers that we work with face difficult daily challenges at school, at home and on the streets of their neighborhoods. We can't remove them from their environments, we can only help them to make the best possible choices for themselves and those around them.