The bilateral Value of Symbolic, non-violent Acts

ricksalutinIn The Globe and Mail newspaper opinion article named Peace on Earth, good shoes toward men, author Rick Salutin touches on an important point.

In the face of overwhelming power, symbolic acts are important. They hold the promise of growth for both sides of any conflict.


Journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, the shoe thrower of Baghdad, has given us all a Christmas present – like the gift of the Musli – in the form of a new way to react to rage and conflict, one that’s symbolic and non-violent. It evokes respect, even from its target, rather than further rage and violence.

Salutin seems to know a little bit about humiliation and shame:

Symbolic acts are therapeutic for people who feel, like many Iraqis and Palestinians, humiliated. You not only lose your homes and lives, you lose your sense of dignity. A restrained, controlled act helps restore that sense.

You could see it in the creativity of people raising shoes on poles in recent demos demanding U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, or pelting military convoys with shoes – rather than blowing them up with IEDs, which assault terrified young soldiers instead of the decision-makers. The latter are rarely exposed, except at press conferences, where the indignity can descend on them, if they have to dodge around like targets in a dunk tank.

He argues that even the targets are helped via non-violence:

Such acts can even be helpful for the targets. “This is a gift from the Iraqis … you dog!” yelled the shoe thrower. But he gave George Bush a chance to look quick on his feet and more astute than he ever did after 9/11. Remember his doltish “analysis”: It’s because they hate us for our freedoms. Here he called it an “interesting way for a person to express himself” – as if it gave him something to reflect on, for once. So it was a gift.

Litigation of any kind is a violent activity and should be avoided. It’s not a matter of winning and losing: It’s a matter of not being tricked into degrading yourself to their level.

  • Let’s put our heads together and throw some shoes and dodge the trap of being sucked into a war without end.

Try more creative ways; ways that can allow others to join in your situation. Looking outward is always the surest way of rising above.

  • It is the nature of pain to focus attention on ourselves.

The lesson that pain brings is that we’re all in it together.

Among the learned the lawyers claim first place, the most self-satisfied class of people, as they roll their rock of Sisyphus and string together six hundred laws in the same breath, no matter whether relevant or not, piling up opinion on opinion and gloss on gloss to make their profession seem the most difficult of all.

Anything which causes trouble has special merit in their eyes.

Desiderius Erasmus

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