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RENDERING HARMLESS DOCTINE: A COMPASSIONATE

RESPONSE TO AGGRESSION

Charles Day*
www.desmoinesmeditation.org

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine advocates responding to


aggression with understanding and compassion and offers a way to
honor and reconcile the duty to defend oneself, family, nation, and
world with the religious, spiritual, and humanitarian principles of
compassion, forgiveness, non-violence, and pacifism.

All responses to aggression by individuals, groups, and nations


should be motivated by understanding and compassion—not anger,
revenge, or retaliation—with the intention of rendering aggressors
harmless—not to harm or punish them. Motives, methods, and goals
should aim at ending the suffering that both causes and results from
aggression and restoring peace and harmony for all concerned,
perpetrators as well as victims.

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine is based on three assumptions.


First, individuals—not gangs, mobs, cells, or nations—are responsible
for aggression, assault, mayhem, terrorism, atrocities, genocide, and
war. Second, these individuals, acting alone, as group members, or
as leaders of nations, can cause such horrific harm that reasonable
persons are morally obligated to stop them, using peaceful means and
legal authority whenever possible. And third, history reveals, religions
teach, and social and psychological studies confirm that anger begets
anger, aggression begets aggression, and war begets war.
Responding with anger and aggression only causes, aggravates, and
perpetuates the cycle of anger and aggression, either immediately or
in the long run.

If a government aggresses against its own citizens or fails to protect


them, such as in government sponsored or condoned genocide, or if
a government attacks or supports aggression against another
government, appropriate legal authorities should collectively decide
whether, when, and how to intervene. Diplomatic negotiations, civil
disobedience, economic sanctions, containment, regime change,
military combat and occupation, and other interventions should avoid

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harming the innocent, while rendering harmless those responsible for
the aggression. Preemptive and preventative wars should not occur.
And local, national, and international laws, treaties, agreements, and
policies that promote peace and further the Rendering Harmless
Doctrine should be enacted and implemented.

In the system of criminal justice, capture, arrest, trial, sentencing,


incarceration, and rehabilitation should be based on protecting the
innocent, accepted principles of law, mitigating circumstances,
restorative justice and restitution, and the age, physical and
psychological health and criminal history of offenders. The risk of
recidivism and the severity of its consequences should determine
conditions of probation, imprisonment, and parole. Capital
punishment should end.

Only after all diplomatic and peaceful efforts fail to achieve conflict
resolution and end aggression might harm regrettably be risked in
apprehending dangerous individuals, criminals, terrorists, and tyrants
and turning them over to the appropriate authority for justice. Non-
lethal weapons and tactics should be used. Civilian, law
enforcement, and military responses should protect the innocent,
avoid infrastructure and collateral damage, apprehend responsible
leaders and combatants, and prevent the aggression from escalating
into further domestic violence, riots, gang warfare, or civil or
international war.

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine recognizes that the victims of


aggression and their families, communities, and countries do suffer
and often become angry and afraid and desire revenge and
retribution. But it holds that only when these negative emotions are
governed by understanding, compassion,and forgiveness, along with
a desire to simply render the aggressors harmless without hurting
them or others, will the cycle of anger and aggression end and peace
and harmony prevail.

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine may also be used as a framework


for thinking about how to handle issues, other than intentional
physical aggression, deemed aggressive or harmful to humans, other
living beings, and our ecology.

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For example the Doctrine might be applied to human rights violations;
labor/management conflicts; punitive parenting and teaching
practices; the harm caused by permitting or preventing abortion;
assisted suicide and euthanasia; interrogation methods; animal rights
related to raising, exploiting, and killing animals for our consumption,
work, and entertainment; laws, policies, and practices in agriculture,
industry, business, education, and government that prove harmful to
us or our environment; and legitimizing, sensationalizing, and
glorifying anger, aggression, and violence as entertainment in
newspapers, books, plays, movies, and television and as heroism in
athletics and war.

In these examples, compassion and understanding should motivate


making whatever changes are necessary to render harmless, not only
individuals, but the specific practices and policies responsible for
causing and perpetuating harm and suffering to humans, animals,
and the planet.

In advocating compassion as the basis for responding to aggression,


the Rendering Harmless Doctrine does not dictate the answers to
specific issues or circumstances but is intended to provide the
rationale for seeking them. It is an expression simply of the universal
religious, philosophical, and ethical principles of “Do no harm;” “Hate
never overcomes hate - only love overcomes hate;” and the golden
rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
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*Charlie Day is a retired psychologist who teaches meditation and


Buddhist philosophy. He welcomes promotion of the Rendering
Harmless Doctrine and distribution of any or all this essay. He can be
contacted at 515-255-8398,
charlesday1@mchsi.com, or www.desmoinesmeditation.org. 13r89