Despite what our culture teaches us, there are other ways to resist anger, aggression and violence. The experience of Antoinette Tuff shows one remarkable possibility: love and concern for our attackers.
Last summer a potential mass murder was thwarted by an ordinary woman who was armed only with her love. You probably remember Antoinette Tuff, the elementary school secretary who gently but firmly talked down a young man who was carrying over 500 rounds of ammunition. Her story has garnered national attention, in part because it reveals the sustaining role that faith can play in moments of extreme danger. But her story also demonstrates another truth that may be even more remarkable. It is the extraordinary power of love to confront, resist and ultimately overcome anger, aggression and violence. We don't often think of love as an effective weapon. But it is. Even in the face of extreme violence, like a young man with 500 rounds of ammunition and a determination to kill. We live in a culture that repeatedly teaches us to think in terms of only two options to such aggression - fight or flight. This message permeates our popular culture. It is prevalent in movies, video games, novels and songs. Cowards flee, we are repeatedly taught. But heroes stand and fight, responding to fire with fire. Make no mistake, such fighting has been and can be an effective deterrent to violence. But Antoinette Tuff and other loving warriors show us that there is another way - a third option - with other weapons we can deploy to resist aggression and protect both ourselves and others. Such weapons of love have several common elements. First, they involve amazing courage. Responding to fire with fire takes courage. But responding to fire with love requires even more. In fact, it takes a certain amount of fearlessness. Of course "fearlessness" doesn't necessarily mean a complete absence of fear. Rather it means refusing to let fear dictate our response. It is facing danger despite our fear. What gives people such fearlessness in the face of aggression? Ironically, it is usually brought about through a sense of human connection, a feeling of compassion for the aggressor. This is the second common element to all weapons of love - a recognition of our interdependence and interconnectedness, even with those who seek to hurt us. Notice how well Tuff's story follows these two patterns. When the gunman entered the school and began loading his rounds, she admitted: "I was terrified." But that fear didn't control her actions. She didn't try to flee. She didn't give in to his violence or fight back with more violence. Why? Because she began to feel compassion for him. "He said he didn't have any reason to live and he knew he was going to die today. I realized at that time that it was bigger than me. He was really a hurting young man." Her compassion led her to the next common element of weapons of love - forgiveness. "I just started praying for him," she said. Remarkably, she felt no ill will towards this person who wanted to hurt her and the school children she loved. She only felt concern for everyone's safety - including the gunman's. At one point, when the gunman tried to go outside, she called him back, because she knew that if he went outside he might start shooting the children. But also - and this is evidence that her concern for him was real - because she was afraid the police officers might kill him. Her concern then led her to the final common element of weapons of love: doing the unexpected. "I just explained to him that I loved him." That declaration must have bewildered her attacker. He probably thought he knew how the scenario would play out. He would come in with a gun. Some people would cower and submit, and he would kill some of them. Others, including police officers, would shoot at him, and he might kill some of them as well. Eventually he would die. But Tuff refused to play by that script - to give in, or flee, or shoot back. Instead she found another way to resist him, with her love. She kept telling him he didn't have to die, that the story didn't have to end like so many Hollywood films. He told her he had to die. She kept saying, "No, you don't." The last thing he probably expected was for someone to stand up to him, to resist his aggression by declaring - and demonstrating - love. "I didn't know his name," she later recalled. "I didn't know much about him. But I did love him." And that unfeigned love disarmed him. Literally. Tuff eventually convinced the young man to put down his gun, lay under the office counter - so the police wouldn't shoot him - and surrender to authorities. Her love overwhelmed his bullets. It's a lesson we might all apply. We probably won't face many gunmen in our lives. But all of us will face anger and aggression in one form or another. Maybe it will come in the form of an angry neighbor. Or an abusive family member. Or a hostile coworker. At such times, it may be important to consider that the "fight or flight" impulse gives us a limited set of options. There are other options. There are other weapons that may be more strong, more firm, with a power to protect both us and - paradoxically - our enemies. So perhaps all of us can train to be a little more fearless, to seek human connection, exert forgiveness and do the unexpected. In short, maybe we too can learn to wield weapons of love.%3Cimg%20src%3D%22http%3A//beacon.deseretconnect.com/beacon.gif%3Fcid%3D157624%26pid%3D46%22%20/%3E