Photo: The Rev. Dr. Tammy Rodman from Sanctuary Outreach Ministry speaks at a community round-table forum hosted by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. The monthly luncheons are an example of taking "Empathetic Action" against violence.


October 2, 2014


If love makes the world go round, violence knocks it on its… well… posterior. Violence disrupts communities across the US, and Durham is no exception.

Individuals and communities respond to this violence in four common ways: Avoidance, Apathy, Anger, and Empathetic Action. I’ve found myself responding in the first three of these ways in the far-too-recent past, but I've also recently been a part of responding in the last way—Empathetic Action—through a monthly gathering here in Durham that is open to everybody.

Here is what the four responses to violence look like.

Avoidance. Hiding from such a violent reality as ours seems like an obvious option for anyone who lives in a world where it's easy to pretend that the violence doesn’t exist. For example, if you, like me, live in a neighborhood where gunshots are not the ambient noise to which you fall asleep, then closing the paper and turning off the television may sufficiently silence the sharp shrills of sirens in our community. Avoidance goes deeper than merely ignoring victims of homicide, domestic violence, and assault. It also includes avoiding the tough racial and economic truths that accompany our violent world. Of course, violence breaks into even the most economically stable places of our society and is not limited to a particular race, but violence never-the-less cuts with particular severity and frequency in places marked by a certain economic and racial history.

Apathy. If avoidance is troubling, apathy is appalling. Apathy signals a lack of care. It's quite literally to be without suffering or sensation. An apathetic response to violence may come from a lack of relationship or connection to people directly affected by violence, as if because violence has not directly touched an individual, then it does not matter. At times, apathy may be a developed response closely tied to cynicism where hopelessness has created numbness and a lack of feeling. Worse than these is when apathy arises from disdain (maybe hatred) for those most commonly suffering from the violence of the city.

Anger. Unlike the prior responses, anger takes seriously the dramatic toll of violence within our city. Anger arises from a deep care and concern (maybe even love) for those hurt most dramatically by violence (this, of course, includes victim, perpetrator, and the community as a whole). In itself, anger is not necessarily a negative response the way apathy and avoidance are. Anger has the potential to move in many directions. At its worst, anger becomes violent. At its best, anger moves toward transformation. At times, anger is the kindling for actions ultimately motivated by the care out of which the anger comes.

Empathetic Action. When people have finally been touched and deeply moved by the violence enacted upon them and their community, they come together in action. While action in itself is a neutral word, a community that comes together in deep care for all people affected by violence to respond together for the transformation of the whole community is a community moving toward justice and love. Of course, empathetic action doesn't always look like marches or special programs. It often looks like eating with neighbors, listening to community members from the "other side" of Durham (which ever side that other side might be), and praying together. In short, this action often looks like making deeper relationships. And through these relationships with neighbors who've served time for violent crimes and with those who've served time with Fortune 500 companies, a community learns what it takes to overcome evil with good, to meet violence with peace, and to transform despair into joyous hope.

This happens each month on the fourth Thursday when Durham community members join the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham's Community Round Table meetings. People of faith from across Durham gather to listen, to learn, and to be informed about what other people of faith and good will are doing to work against violence in our city. In these meetings, ex-offenders and corporate professionals sit side-by-side as companions on a journey of making Durham a place of blessing for everyone. These meetings are an action against violence (and against the unfortunate responses of avoidance and apathy). And these particular actions, in small ways, make our violence-struck community go round again.

By Bruce Puckett, Director of Community Ministry, Duke Chapel

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