Teaching Power without Domination

January 12, 2015

guns n grenades

A friend of mine once asked a question I’ll never forget.


It was in high school, on the first day of a small sophomore think-tank-like seminar, where we, the students, would be setting the curriculum for the semester (my high school was way better than college).

Suggesting a topic for class exploration, my friend posed a question he said he’d been wondering about: “Does every relationship—whether between two people or two countries—end up with one side being dominant over the other?”

Mind. Blown.

It was the smartest question I’d ever heard. With my neck stuck out, jaw a-slackin', I a little bit fell in love with nerd dude. Even the teacher’s eyes glazed over, I thought she might cry.

The question has stuck with me for 16 years. It never grows old, it has never become irrelevant.

Nerd boy’s question occurred to me again recently, when I spotted a 50¢
gumball machine selling miniature plastic “Guns 'N Grenades” on the street (my first thought, of course, was, ...but my children’s books about veganism are “disturbing”?). 

While I stood staring at the gumball machine in world-weary disgust, I filtered through my reaction...welcome to my brain:

Step 1: detect feeling.
Step 2: name feeling.
Step 3: analyze feeling.
Step 4: name correct feeling.
Step 5: repeat Step 3.


It’s not even that I’m necessarily anti-gun. I have family members who would have been murdered if not for guns in the hands of protectors. 

Really, what I felt was abandon; the abandon with which we allow kids to develop a taste for utter entitlement.

What truly disturbs me about “Guns 'N Grenades” is the distorted prerogative that playing with them instills in children. When little kids play “guns,” they’re not usually playing Rescue the Victim. They’re playing domination.

Maybe that raw tendency is human nature, maybe not…but now we have giant, “evolved” brains to deal with that, don’t we?

We have to teach kids about being powerful without domination.

Left unchecked, I do believe that the dynamic between any two given entities is liable to slip toward imbalance. The economic, environmental, and ecological crises we find ourselves in today are obvious consequences of unbridled, unrefined power.

Historically, learning to wield power effectively, honorably, and justly is warrior work. It is never achieved alone, but in a setting of checks and balances, where one has to practice deference, examination, restraint, and self-control; where one has to answer to an otherand be accountable for his or her actions.  

This kind of training is a subtle but very real benefit of ethical veganism. We learn to go through the steps of examined accountability—answering to our better judgement, to the environment, to animals, to the earth. It is inherently a restraint against tendencies toward reckless and unjust domination.

Kindly take the following request as it comes from the bottom of my heart: please consider gifting my books to a child in your life or to your local library. They are about more than veganism—they are about the kind of questions that last a lifetime.