Friday, July 11, 2008

Prescription for Peace: Moving from Control to Compassion

Father Michael Crosby, OFM Cap., was in New York on September 11 and saw the smoke streaming from the World Trade Center towers. Two days later, as the wind shifted in his direction, his eyes began to water and his mouth and nose became parched. He thenrealized that the smoke contained the remains of both the perpetrators and the victims.

“It was a most powerful experience. In the smoke was the world of good and evil,” he said.

With only a white board, a red and a blue marker and a Bible, the author, lecturer and retreat director led a two-hour discussion on how to counteract violence in our world at the Transformations Spirituality Center of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Mich.

“Control is at the heart of all violence in the world. That is why we have terrorism and counter-terrorism,” said Father Crosby, 68. “And it won’t stop. Power is the ability to influence, it can be a force for good or for harm.”

Totalitarian regimes, for example, use their power by exploiting others, he said. As a market economy, American advertisers use their power by manipulating people’s feelings and identities and by preying on our insecurities. Likewise, the Catholic Church uses its power to dominate others, especially women, through fear and intimidation.

These negative uses of power injure and abuse people and they all come down to the obsessive need to control others and not care about them, he said. And power that employs violence severs relationships in many ways through physical, emotional, sexual, even verbal abuse.

“Verbal abuse all by itself can destroy a relationship,” he said. “It can be a warning of physical abuse to come.”

Father Crosby also railed against institutionalized violence where the system supports unequal relationships as the norm. He illustrated this point with the example of a Pakistani woman who sought a divorce and was murdered by her parents in the name of family or community honor.

“Institutional violence is why we have racism, sexism, ageism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, tribalism, elitism,” said Father Crosby who added that the source of violence is WITHIN us, not outside of us.

"When we are violent it means we don’t care about whether we inflict injury or impose our will on another person. Violence in any form, however, is never justified. It is always a sin.”

Father Crosby criticized the violence done by political commentators like Ann Coulter who call dissenters of the Bush administration’s policy to wage war on Iraq “unpatriotic” and “traitorous.” The Catholic Church has done the same thing by calling people who disagree with the Holy Father disloyal, heretical, and deserving of excommunication.

“We have got to find another way of communicating,” said Father Crosby. “Not to engage in discourse encourages misunderstanding and the need to control. It is unhealthy. Jesus, by contrast, was a most powerful person but he wasn’t violent. The energy of Jesus is spirit….So if God is in me, I must allow God to be a force through me. This requires a change of heart from trying to control others. Then the reign of God is at hand.”

The effect of this change of heart is that we realize that we cannot avoid caring about others, especially when they’re in pain. Instead, we must CHOOSE to be in the reign of God and act on it.

Father Crosby suggests that an alternative response to the violence and counter-violence of 9/11 could have been accomplished through conflict resolution—in the same way that any interpersonal relationship would resolve its issues:

* Agree to stop fighting.

* Engage in active listening, i.e., understanding what the other is saying
without interruption.

* Accept the other person.

* Admit your part in what led to the conflict.

* Say you’re sorry.

* Forgive each other.

“When we become aware that we have been abusing our power, we develop a new pattern,” said Father Crosby, intimating that the United States has not always recognized its domineering relationships with other countries. He pointed out that the first Sept. 11 occurred in 1973, when the United States overthrew the democratically-elected Chilean president, Salvador Allende.

“Compassion is the whole goal of the spiritual world. Justice is making the relationship right. When we have justice, we will have peace.”

Father Crosby maintains a website at

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