Second Offense
© 10 September 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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The discipline required for peace to exist.


“‍The Gulf War Song‍”, the final track on Moxy Früvous’s 1993 debut album Bargainville, contains the line “‍Don’t tell me I can’t fight ’cause I’ll punch out your lights.‍” That line has haunted me since I first noticed it six years ago. I first noticed it’s simple expression of the inability to peacefully enforce peace. I later became impressed with its implicit suggestion that violence is a reaction to offense.

The simple justice of “‍an eye for an eye‍” breaks down rather rapidly when such direct trade-offs are not easily defined. I have observed that the offended very often perceives an offense as more serious than does the offender. When person A slaps person B, person B is likely to think person A punched them instead. It doesn’t take long before “‍an eye for an eye‍” becomes “‍a head for an eye‍” even without the intentional escalation that anger often inserts.

Observation aside, all that is needed for such escalatory reactions to exist is people to differ in the perceived seriousness of a class of offenses and each prefer the class they personally perceive as less serious. If I consider violence less offensive than you while you consider words less offensive than I then “‍don’t tell me I can’t fight ’cause I’ll punch out your lights‍” is a reasonable statement. In a heterogeneous world, I see it as almost inevitable that there will be people who will have such supercritical interactions.

Mormon I think it was Mormon; the context makes clear attribution hard. presented what I see as the only solution to this problem: “‍inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, […]‍”. This is, of course, the same sentiment as Christ’s “‍turn […] the other [cheek],‍” but I prefer the declarative rather than example-based language here.

Last night Jeffery Holland spoke of the difficult decisions inherent in being a disciple every day. One of the examples he gave, of people verbally abusing an athlete, brought the second offense rule to my mind. Would those irate fans have been able to identify two distinct prior offenses? He also spoke of the church taking a stance against particular evils politically. Would not failing to uphold moral laws when able to do so constitute a first offense?

I think there is great value in remembering this buffer in our daily lives. How often is anger with drivers, people in shops, clients, etc, based on two distinct offenses? How often are we knowingly guilty of a first offense ourselves?

I hope one day to become a two-offense reactor. It is an objective I feel is within mortal reach.

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