Bears, Tolstoy, and the Cycle of Violence

When I was a kid we lived in the mountains of Tennessee. I had an uncle who had a “bear killer” in his back yard—his “back yard” being a steep rise straight up a mountain.  My uncle’s bear killer was a large log about five feet off the ground swinging from ropes on either end. My uncle claimed that if a bear started coming around his house, all he had to do was put some bait under the log. The bear would come for the bait, hit its head on the log, and bat it. The log would swing back and hit the bear. The bear would strike back harder; the log would strike back harder; and on until the log eventually killed the bear. My uncle swore that this was a time-tested method for ridding oneself of troublesome bears.

I assumed this was just mountain lore until I read a similar anecdote written by the Christian pacifist Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy told the story to illustrate his point that violence begets violence, escalating on and on. Tolstoy asked a simple question: “Can’t people be wiser than bears?”

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