The Rendering Harmless Doctrine of Compassion

by Charles Day*

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine offers a way to honor and reconcile the duty to defend oneself, family, nation, and world with the religious and humanitarian principles of compassion, forgiveness, non-violence, and pacifism.

All responses to personal, community, and global aggression should be motivated by understanding and compassion—not anger, revenge, or retribution—with the intention of rendering aggressors harmless—not to harm or punish them. Motives, methods, and goals should be compatible with ending the suffering that causes and results from aggression and with restoring peace for all concerned, perpetrators as well as victims.

The Doctrine is based on three assumptions. First, individuals—not gangs, mobs, cells, or nations—are responsible for assault, mayhem, terrorism, atrocities, genocide, and war. Second, these individuals, acting alone or as members of groups or 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 demonstrates, religions teach, and social and psychological studies confirm that anger begets anger, aggression begets aggression, and war begets war. Responding with anger and aggression causes, aggravates, and perpetuates the cycle of anger and aggression.

If a local or national government fails to protect or aggresses against its own citizens, or attacks or supports aggression against another government, appropriate legal authorities should collectively decide whether, when, and how to intervene. Civil disobedience, economic sanctions, containment, regime change, occupation, and other measures should avoid harming the innocent, while rendering harmless those responsible for the aggression.

In the criminal justice system, capture, arrest, trial, sentencing, incarceration, and rehabilitation should be based on accepted principles of law, protecting the innocent, mitigating circumstances, restorative justice and restitution, and the psychological and criminal history of the individual. 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, 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. Military and police operations should protect civilians, apprehend responsible leaders and combatants, avoid infrastructure and collateral damage, and prevent war.

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine appreciates that victims suffer and may desire revenge and retribution. But it holds that only when these negative emotions are governed by understanding and compassion, with the intention of rendering aggressors harmless without hurting them or others, will the cycle of anger and violence end and peace prevail.

(*Charlie welcomes promotion of this doctrine, so please free to use all or any part of it and to share it with others.)

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