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. Nonlethal 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.” ____________________________________________ *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

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