Another way of resolving conflicts
Humanity has always seen conflicts of every type, especially under patriarchy. The predominant means of resolving them has been, and still is, the use of violence, to defeat the other and subjugate him to some lower order. That is the worst of paths, because it leaves in the vanquished the taste of bitterness, humiliation and a desire for revenge. And this perpetuates the spiral of violence that, especially today, takes on the form of terrorism, the expression of revenge of the humiliated. Could this be the only way for human beings to resolve their conflicts?
There was someone who considered himself “God’s madman” (pazzus Dei), Francis of Assisi, who could also be the present Francis of Rome, who sought another way. The previous path was one of win/lose. The new one, the win/win path, removes the bases of the bellicose spirit. Let’s take examples from the practice of Francis of Assisi. His usual greeting was to wish everyone: “peace and good”. He asked of his followers: “Anyone who comes, friend or foe, thief or bandit, greet him with kindness” (Regla no bulada, 7).
Let us consider Francis’ strategy regarding violence. Let’s take two legends, that, as legends, express the spirit better than the letter of the facts: the thieves of the Hamlet of San Sepolcro and the Wolf of Gubbio (Fioretti, c. 21).
A band of thieves used to hide in the woods and rob the passers-by of the neighborhood. Moved by hunger, they went to the hermitage of the friars to ask for food. They were welcomed, not without remorse, by the friars: “It is not right that we give charity to this band of thieves who cause so much evil in this world”. They brought the question to Francis; who suggested the following strategy: take bread and wine to the woods, and shout to them: “Brother thieves, come here, we are brothers and we bring you bread and wine” ―they happily eat and drink―, then talk to them about God, but do not ask them to abandon the life they lead because it would be to ask too much; only ask them that when they assault to not cause the person harm. Another time, Francis counsels: “Bring them something better: cheese and eggs”. Happier, the thieves rejoice, but listen to the exhortation of the friars: “Leave this life of hunger and suffering, stop thieving, convert to work because the good God will provide what is necessary for the body and for the soul”. The thieves, moved by such goodness, leave that life and some of them even become friars.
Here the finger, ready to accuse and to condemn, was set aside in the name of the warm closeness, and trust in the energy hidden in them to be something other than thieves. It is to overcome the tendency to see things in black and white, that puts goodness on one side and evil on the other. In fact, in each person is hidden a possible thief and a possible friar. With tender affection, the friar hidden within the thief can be rescued. And that is what happened in Assisi.
This strategy of renouncing violence also appears clearly in the legend of the Wolf of Gubbio. that attacked the people of that small town. Once again schematization is overcome: on one side, the “big wolf, terrible and ferocious” and on the other, the people, filled with fear and armed. The two actors whose only relationship was violence and mutual destruction confronted each other. Francis’ strategy was not to seek a truce or an equilibrium of forces ruled by fear. Francis did not take sides with one or the other, in a false Pharisaic attitude: “it is the other who is bad, not I, therefore the other must be destroyed”. Has anyone asked himself whether inside each of us there can be hiding a bad wolf, and at the same time, a good citizen?
The path of Francis was the union of opposites, and to bring the opposites close enough to each other that they could make a pact of peace. Francis went to the wolf and said to him: “brother wolf, you are a bad murderer, and deserve the gallows, but I also recognize that you do so much harm because of hunger. Let’s make a pact: the people will feed you, and you will stop threatening them”. Then Francis addressed the people, preaching: “turn to God, stop sinning. Make sure that there is enough food for the wolf, and that way God will free you from eternal punishment, and from the bad wolf”.
Legend has it that the small town changed its habits. They decided to feed the wolf, and the wolf moved among the people, as if he were a gentle citizen.
There have been those who read that legend as a metaphor for class struggle. That could be. The fact is that the peace that was accomplished was not through the victory of one of the parties, but by transcending the sides and parties. Each one gave in, the gain/gain was realized and peace came, one which does not exist by itself, but that results from a collective agreement between the citizens and the wolf.
Conclusion: Francis did not stimulate the contradictions nor did he remove the dark dimension where hatreds boil. Francis trusted in the humanizing capacity of goodness, dialogue and mutual trust. He was not naive. He knew that we live in the “regio dissimilitudinis”, a world of inequalities (Fioretti, c. 37). But he did not resign himself to this decadent situation. He intuited that beyond bitterness, deep inside each creature there exists a submerged goodness to be rescued. And it was.
The day will come when humans will embrace their cordial and spiritual intelligence, whose biological base was identified by the new neurologists, and which complements the intellectual reason, that divides and atomizes. Then we will have inaugurated the kingdom of peace and concord. The wolf will continue being a wolf, but he will threaten no one.
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.