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8 March 2006  

The Cost of Violence
by Rev. James Young

            Years ago, before I entered parish ministry, I worked in theatre.  I taught theatre courses in high school and college and worked professionally in technical theatre and stage design.  One of the skills I taught to beginning actors was stage combat.  A fight on stage or in film look may look realistic but it is an illusion.  Any fight scene is carefully choreographed and learned just like a dance.  It goes slowly at first in rehearsal and ends up looking very realistic at full speed.  By realistic I mean that it looks dangerous and at the same time ensures the safety of the actors in that fight scene.  Accidents do happen and the injuries can be painful and sometimes quite serious.  But the ultimate goal is the illusion.  Few people know the costs in terms of time and expertise of staging a realistic and safe fight scene.

            Today we as a nation are becoming more fascinated with fights and fighting - especially on film where the demand is increasing for more violence and more realism.  The disturbing rise in the levels of violence portrayed in video games must also be noted here.  The boundaries between fiction and reality are also becoming less well defined.  One can watch on cable or satellite TV and see simulated fights on pro wrestling and the “real thing” in boxing, martial arts competition, and something called ultimate fighting in which nearly anything goes.

            What about the possibility of facing violence in real life?  When faced with the imminent possibility of a fight, whether verbal or physical, there are generally two responses – fight or flight.  In the wide vista of what we call popular culture, fighting seems to be the preferred option and flight is looked upon as less honorable.  The irony here is that any student of the martial arts (such as Akido, Karate, Kung Fu, or Pa Gua) can tell you that the goal of the martial art is the reduction of conflict.  Non-violence is the desired and honorable way.  It would appear that as a nation and a culture, we are becoming more violent and less tolerant of others’ opinions and behavior.  How do most of us – myself included- react when someone cuts us off at a four-way stop sign?  Our tendency is to get angry and it would appear today that more people are willing to fight than to walk away. 

            Christians serve a Lord who embodied non-violence and who himself defeated the powers of violence, sin and death with love.  Jesus taught that no person would plan to build a house without first considering the cost.  What is the cost of violence?  A friend once told me about one of his sons who got into a fight at a bar and threw one punch.  This young man, who was in his twenties at the time, is normally a friendly and easy-going person.  He had had a few drinks and reacted without thinking.  Later his father asked him why he did that.  The son replied that he thought that the other guy was going to hit him.  My friend then asked his son why he didn’t just walk away.  The son simply didn’t know.  The medical, insurance, civil and criminal expenses were added up, and that one punch cost the young man $19,000.00.  There are also many other hidden costs to violent acts that cannot be as easily tallied like emotional trauma.

            It is for that very reason that I joined Freeborn County Paths to Peace.  The stated goal of Paths to Peace is to promote peaceful living among citizens of all ages in Freeborn County .  Through education in our schools and in the broader community, we endeavor to teach people the wisdom and the necessity of finding alternatives to violence in our words and our actions.  I encourage you to visit our web page:  There you will find many links that tell us the mounting costs of violence in this world and the lasting benefits of peace. We all will be the richer for seeking non-violent ways.

The Rev. James Young is the rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Albert Lea , and a member of Paths to Peace in Freeborn County .