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Turning the Other Cheek
Publication date: 2003-11-25

How Turning the Other Cheek Can be Successful and Where it Fails ...

With the present increase in global violence, some people are calling towards “non‐violence” quoting the biblical passage about “turning the other cheek”.

Often this passage is interpreted as: “If I hit you, you should turn me the other cheek, but if you hit me, I have right to defend myself”.

We look at the real meaning of “turning the other cheek”, and how this method can be used with positive results, and where it fails.

The passage about turning the other cheek appears in The New Testament (Matthew 5:39, and Luke 6:29), as follows:

“If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also”.

But a similar passage appears in the Old Testament (Lamentations 3:30):

“Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace”.

This last passage is part of laments over the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah (Yehuda), Jerusalem, and of the Temple, by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The first passage originated in Palestine in the early decades of the 1st Century AD, when Palestine was ruled by the Roman puppet Herod.

Thus, both the passages relate to circumstances when people were downtrodden and oppressed to such a degree when any resistance seemed futile, and the only option was to face any aggression on the part of the oppressor by calmly accepting the blows, so as not to provoke more violence.

But the method of “turning the other cheek”, both literally and figuratively, has been successfully used in more recent times, as illustrated by the following examples.

Case 1:

At the time of World War II a German officer ordered a group of British prisoners of war to line up in front of him. As each of the prisoner's name was read out, the prisoner was to walk up to the officer and stand up to attention in front of him. Then the officer would slap the prisoner on the face and the prisoner would return to his place in the line.

Having undergone such treatment and returned to his place in the line, one of the prisoners had a sudden flash in his mind. As the next name was read out, he walked out of the line and stood up to attention in front of the officer — to be slapped on the face for the second time.

But instead of slapping him on the face a second time, the officer spat on the ground, as if in disgust, ordered for the prisoners to be returned to their places, and walked away.

Analysis (Case 1):

Here this literal “turning the cheek to be slapped” worked. It stopped the officer slapping the prisoners.

Why did it work?

The whole exercise of slapping the prisoners, was not dictated by any “military” or any other necessity. By humiliating the prisoners the officer wanted to show to them and to himself who is in control. It gave him a sense of superiority. But, once he saw that his actions do not produce the desired effect on the prisoners, his game was spoiled. So, he gave up his game, dismissed the prisoners and walked away.

Had the officer been faced with any attempts by the prisoners to resist this humiliating treatment or to protest against it, the officer would have been only encouraged to continue with his game, because it would have been producing the desired by him results. It would have enabled him to suppress any resistance or protest by his superior force and thus demonstrate his “superiority” over the “enemy” prisoners.

Case 2:

Some few years ago in an African country a businessman caught a young man who climbed over the wall into his yard in order to steal something. The youngster was obviously frightened that he would be beaten up or handed over to the police.

“I can beat you up, or hand you over to the police”, said the businessman, “But I understand why you came here to steal. You have no money and you are hungry. I shall give you money, but you will have to work for it. But, if you do not agree, then I shall hand you over to the police”.

The youngster agreed to work for his money. The businessman found the youngster capable and trustworthy and after some time trained him to be a manager of one of his warehouses.

Analysis (Case 2):

Here the businessman was faced with a burglary, which was a hostile aggressive act against his property. The natural human reaction to aggression is an aggressive response. And, in such cases people often respond in such way. But instead of reacting emotionally and instinctively as most people do, the businessman assessed the situation rationally and acted in a way which proved beneficial to himself.

Had he beaten up the burglar or handed him over to the police, not only the businessman would have lost an opportunity to employ a capable and trustworthy employee, but could have had another visit from the same burglar, who would have been toughen by his beating and his prison experience, and turned into a habitual hardened criminal.

Case 3:

In one office in a European country a director of the company went to the photocopying room to take a copy of a letter before going out for lunch. At the photocopier he found an employee copying a large heap of papers.

The employee was obviously embarrassed. He did not expect the director to find him in the copier room. It was already lunchtime, and he thought that the director went out for lunch.

Having glanced at the papers, the director understood what was going on, and said, “So, you've got some great business idea. You want to use the company information to set up a business of your own. I don't mind that. And, if your idea is any good, I can even invest in your new business”.

The director understood that the information the employee was copying had no value whatsoever. And the “great idea” that the employee had was just a lot of nonsense. But instead of saying so to the employee, the director asked the employee to explain to him, how his would produce any profit. After a few questions it became clear even to the employee himself, that what he was doing was nonsense.

“Ok, now let me just take a copy of my letter, and then you can carry on copying your papers”, said the director. And having copied his letter, went for lunch, leaving the employee to carry on copying the papers.

Later in the day, as the director passed through the copying room, he noticed that all the papers copied by the employee were sticking out of the waste‐paper bin near the copier. The employee did not continue copying after the director left for lunch. And whatever he had copied before, the employee had thrown away.

On the next day the director received a telephone call from the employee's mother‐in‐law:

“My son‐in‐law has been taken to a mental hospital. He had a nervous breakdown. You make your people work too much. Everyday after coming from work my son‐in‐law was working on his computer till midnight. No wonder he had a nervous break down!”.

“We do not give any work to any of our employees to be done at home”, said the director, “Your son‐in‐law was doing his own work, not just at home, but even at the office. He has an unhealthy attitude to life”.

“This is true”, agreed the mother‐in‐law with a deep sigh. (Apparently her son‐in‐law had domestic problems as well).

Analysis (Case 3):

Here again an employee had committed a dishonest, aggressive act against his employer, and the employer could have told him to stop copying the company information, which the employee thought was confidential and important, and which he hoped to “steal” from the company and to set his own “rival” business. He could also have dismissed him, or even threatened with legal proceedings.

Had the director reacted in such “aggressive” ways, he would have confirmed to the employee that the information he was trying to steal was valuable and so were his “business plans”. And, even if had been dismissed, he could have still be trying to steal the “secrets” by breaking in or in some other way.

But by letting the employee to carry on with his activities, the director had shown to him that what he was doing had no value at all. The employee had realized that all his plans and his activities that he was carrying on in secrecy for some time were of no value at all. And this realization had such a strong impact on him that he had a nervous breakdown.

Here again we have a case when responding to aggression not emotionally and aggressively, but by rationally assessing the situation and acting accordingly, has neutralized the aggression with practically no effort and within minutes, while reacting to it aggressively could have fueled the aggression and kept it alive for years.

Case 4:

September the 11th, 2001.

The President of the USA decided to respond to that aggressive act with more aggression, by starting his War on Terror. And the consequences are there for all to see.

But, what would have happened, if the President had made use of the TTOC (Turning The Other Cheek) technique? In fact we suggested to him how to apply that technique to the 9/11 case still on 16th October 2001.

Analysis (Case 4):

Osama bin Laden did what he did not because he wanted to be “evil”, but because he sincerely believed that he was fighting against “Evil”, just as G.W. Bush and Tony Blair believe that they are doing today.

But, if, instead of being faced with war, he would have been faced with an offer to eradicate the “evil”, against which he is fighting, by peaceful means, and with the assistance and cooperation of those he is trying to fight against — what would he have done?

If he had refused, he would have lost all credibility, because he would have been fighting for no reason.

But, if he would have taken up the offer? — Then the War on Terror, in the true sense of that word, would have been won “without a shot being fired”.

But for G.W Bush it was so important to “get Osama bin Laden dead or alive”. And what are the results?

Some people still respond to aggression with aggression and do not understand the power of the technique of “turning the other cheek”.

But, if the TTOC (Turning The Other Cheek) technique is so powerful, why not use it in every case?

Because it does not work in every case.

Would have the USA been an independent country, rather than a British colony, if the Americans had been meek and obedient to the British, rather than rising up against them in a violent War of American Independence?

Would have the European colonizers left their Asian and African colonies, had it not been for a combination of violent and non‐violent resistance?

In Case 1 (above) the prisoner could stop the officer slapping prisoners on the face using TTOC, but TTOC would not have liberated the countries occupied by the Germans in World War II. The only way to do that was military force.

In Case 2 (above) the burglar agreed to work for the businessman, because the alternative was to undergo violent punishment, and the businessman was a strong man backed by a group of servants standing behind him, which helped the burglar to accept the businessman's offer.

There is no single magic cure‐all, each case needs to be considered on its merits. Often violence needs to be resisted with violence, but sometimes “turning the other cheek” works, while use of violence without sense creates just more violence.

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