Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2005 | 12:25 p.m.

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Deep Thoughts from the Gym

I made it to the gym just barely on time today, but all the BOSU's were gone, so I dejectedly went out to the elliptical machine instead. Okay, not really head-hanging, dirt-kicking dejected, but somewhat disappointed while simultaneously relieved that my workout wouldn't involve balancing haphazardly on the big blue button. So anyway, I went to the elliptical machines and started, only to realize that I was parked in front of the tv showing Faux news. Ugh. Nope, can't stomach that crap on top of sweat stinging my eyes and generally feeling like a puffing buffalo, so I moved down to the machine in front of the CNN tv. Not much better, but still. Because I had planned to attend a class, I didn't have any kind of music device with me, including a radio, which means I had to watch the occasional glance of CNN and absorb the wit and wisdom of Wolf Blitzer via close-captioning. In time, the Eric Robert Rudolph case came on. You know, the guy who "certainly did" bomb the women's clinic in Birmingham. The guy has shown no remorse for what he did and would probably do it again. Why? To prove his point, right? Killing to show that killing is wrong. That's a theme in our history, isn't it.

This got me thinking about violent protest and terrorism. I've been paying a fair bit of attention to the entire concept of protest and activism for several months now, particularly since the coming of the Shrub and his subsequent wars. My jury is still out on protesting in general. It seems to me that peaceful protesting can, at the least, bring attention to an issue and improve awareness, and that's not a bad thing. I wonder sometimes at whether it changes anyone's mind, and note the occasional person who seems to confuse protesting with socializing, but overall, I support peaceful protest even though I'm not convinced it changes anyone's mind. But violence? Not only does it not ever change my mind, it has a deterrent effect. I can for certain say that I didn't change my mind about abortion because Rudolph killed an off-duty police officer and injured a nurse and I can also say I don't feel any more sympathetic to the pro-life cause. In fact, I'm more irritated than ever by the hypocrisy of acts like this.

The concept of being a pacifist is new to me, and one I struggle with. I wasn't raised in a pacifist home. I was, however, raised in a home that encouraged critical thinking and am grateful for it. On September 12, 2001 my voice joined many others in a call for retribution, for retaliation. I felt wounded and attacked personally, and in some sense, I was, being an American. Fortunately, I found myself with a friend who saw things very differently and shared that in a way that allowed me to make up my own mind -- and ultimately, to change it about the "proper" response to the 9/11 attacks. I appreciated it then and I do now. Violence isn't the answer and the kind of attention it draws to a cause isn't productive. Countering that act with more violence only creates the cycle of perpetuation. That's the conclusion I've come to. Is it pacifist? I don't know. Do I think that war is always wrong? Maybe. My poor over-worked jury is still out on that. I do believe that the history, the whys and wherefores of a war are written by the victors and that there is inherent bias in that.

So if violence is out of the question for me and I'm questioning the effectiveness of protest in terms of changing minds, what is a progressive girl to do? Where does my responsibility to act on my beliefs meet the conviction that people have free will and should be allowed to make their own choices? How do I live and let live? Should I live and let live? When and why do I take action and what kind of action do I take? Is it enough to limit my sphere of influence and action to my own four walls, or do I have a responsibility to educate and possibly persuade others? And if I do have that responsibility, how do I do it? And how do I do it knowing full well that some people will still make different choices than I do, still buy that SUV, still shop at Wal-Mart, still throw away the recycling, still make racist and sexist remarks? Knowing that some people make those choices because to do otherwise is too difficult and that some make those choices because despite knowing what I may share, they still don't see things the way I do? Is there any point to it? That's a dark road to go down and I try to avoid it.

So in the meantime, I sweat and ponder on the elliptical machine as the suburbanites around me chatter to each other and yell on their cell phones (why do people, including myself, talk more loudly on those things, anyway?) and discuss their latest timeshare acquisition. I am surrounded by people who see the world differently and probably have a world of opportunity to at least talk to them and present a different way of seeing things, if only I could figure out the how.

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