Letter to the Editor: Last Refuge of the Incompetent

Submitted on November 1, 2020

Letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Quest or the Editorial Board.

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”*

Most aphorisms break down at the event horizon between our ideal self and who we are in a moment of distress. Still, I find this quote from a fictional character, in a work of science fiction, to be a compass bearing for choosing how to move through the world — especially when confronted with conflict.

In my style of martial art, Shotokan Karate, one of the 20 guiding principles is this: there is no first attack in Karate. That each of the 19 formal katas begins with a block — a defensive move — brings the ideal into the practice. Beyond that, the ultimate mastery is to be so exquisitely aware as to see the potential for conflict before it manifests — and to avoid it. To be caught unaware and suddenly forced to mount a defense, in the language of the quote, is a sign of “incompetence.” 

I submit that negating another’s expression simply because we disagree is a subtle, yet divisive and destructive form of violence. We are surrounded by the potential for conflict. This means that we are also surrounded by opportunities to listen, affirm, and consider. With care, with awareness, we can avoid the reflexive negations that clutter our language and social discourse, and thereby avoid the incompetence of this form of violence.

My personal commitment to “competence” in this time of uncertainty and conflict is to hold an awareness of how each human interaction we have carries the potential for care, humility, listening, and empathy. I commit to avoiding taking refuge in violence of any kind.

*Quoted from Isaac Asimov’s book, Foundation.

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