On November 7, 2008, a news article was published about Bullies Enjoy Being Mean, which describes a scientific study of brain activity of aggressive children watching videos of someone inflicting pain on another person. The article supports my belief that humans become addicted to aggression-produced brain chemistry in the same way that they become addicted to drugs. The purpose of addiction is to restore stability and balance to a damaged self-concept with a substitute strategy for survival, in spite of the self-destructive nature of the behavior. These behaviors are not innate, they are learned, mostly from a culture of violence that is a public health epidemic.
There is a serious grassroots attempt to restore health and security to our homes, schools, communities and nation with a multi-faceted proposal in Congress, HR808, to establish a Department of Peace and Nonviolence. Do not misunderstand “peace” to mean an absence of conflict or some unattainable, la-la dream. It simply means conflict resolution with proven, efficient and creative methods other than violence. For more information, go to thepeacealliance.org
When we compare the United States to other nations, it appears that we are not only violence-dependent for solving conflict, we are in denial about the losses we incur as a result. I am sadly aware that most people do not support peace-building because they cannot imagine that it could work. I have encountered a passive resistance to the idea, a clinging to the status quo, even when the evidence suggests that our current cultural trajectory is taking us over the edge of a cliff.
The Illinois Center for Violence Prevention estimates that the annual direct and indirect costs of interpersonal violence in America is $425 billion, the World Health Organization puts it at $300 billion. The cost to victims is another $500 billion. When war-related costs are included, the United States spends about $1.5 trillion dollars on security each year. If one percent of the federal discretionary budget were invested in violence prevention, I predict that our economy would experience not only a massive “peace dividend,” there would also be more efficient government with lower taxes, less crime, and support for nuclear families.
The political will to set this in motion will come from people who see themselves in the context of a larger systemic process. It is easier for us to respond to and solve problems when we can see a map of where we are in relation to where we want to be. I intend to show you that what you may consider to be out-of-control extremes of human behavior are actually normal, predictable learning patterns that can lead to stability and security. If I can lift some of the despair from your heart, please tell me about it, because I need to hear that.
Violence is not just physical or interpersonal, it can be verbal, emotional, or psychological. It can also be systemic, institutional, or cultural forms of repression. All of us are helplessly entangled in one form of violence or another. For example, if I watch television, I increase my tendency to think, speak, and act in violent ways. I say I am a recovering violent person, which acknowledges that I lost something.
This image of myself when I was 4 months old best expresses to me the non-violent part of myself that I lost. Part of the work of recovery from violence is to re-define and affirm the existence of this part of ourselves. This my challenge to you: if I can be on the path of recovery, you can also. If WE can do it, our entire culture can do it.
Violence-dependent people typically have low self-esteem, poor coping skills, and poor social skills. When the feelings of being unlovable and inadequate become intolerable, it is quite human to seek an expedient form of relief. It doesn’t matter if it is chemicals, overwork, overspending, overeating, or over-indulgence in emotions such as anger, the precursor to violence. It is all the same addictive cycle.
Although addicts feel guilty about their loss of control over their violent behavior, thoughts, and feelings, they tend to blame others or external circumstances, and deny that they have a problem. It is the classic victim position in which power is projected onto something or someone external that becomes the “enemy.” Recovery from addiction emphasizes the rebuilding of self-esteem, increasing awareness of feelings, and making lifestyle changes to obtain a more lasting and satisfying happiness. However, “change” can also mean “terrifying” because it is unfamiliar and outside our ability to imagine it.
I spoke earlier about losing my non-violent self. Although I became lost in mood-altering chemicals, I was a very angry person. I was emotionally violent, passing hateful judgments on individuals and the entire culture in which I lived. I was spiritually violent with myself, ready to commit suicide in varying degrees on a constant basis. I drew this next graph to illustrate the emotional effect of addiction and recovery. Above the horizontal line are positive emotions, below it are negative emotions, and the red line is the emotional story of my life.
What I want you to notice about this graph is that the swings from positive to negative have an overall tendency to become more extreme with the passage of time, and that towards the end of my active using, there are no positive swings, only a plunge into what is known as “hitting bottom.” I have been to hell, and I am here to tell you that hell is just part of a much longer journey. I have broken the cycle of violence in my life, with a lot of help. In the recovery phase, there is a rapid change to a new level of functioning in a very short period of time, and the swings are much less extreme.
Now I want to show you how addiction and recovery are very much like a grief process. Here is a graph prepared by a grief counselor who defined grief as resistance to change. Change itself doesn’t cause suffering, our resistance to change does. Notice the similarity to the addiction and recovery process, the wide swings between elation and confusion, the plunge into profound sadness, and the rise toward a new world view.
Notice the position of “letting go.” Letting go is a valuable life skill that only those who learn the lessons of grief seem to master. We are not as unique as individuals as we might like to believe. We all have up and down cycles of increasing intensity as we seek solutions, and a sudden “jump” to the next level as new information is integrated.
This next diagram comes from systems theorist Ervin Laszlo, who is illustrating the fact that living systems — including all of humanity as a group — seek stability, just as a grieving person, just as an addict will do. He says that living systems are self-correcting toward this goal when they get out of equilibrium. They will literally “hunt” in chaotic and unpredictable fluctuations as they seek a more efficient, complex, and more successful way of life. As the system gets further out of balance, it stumbles into crises that cannot be resolved at the old level of functioning.
“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”
– Albert Einstein
I see humanity, as individuals on a daily basis, and collectively over a period of several years, spread out around this “bottom” as we struggle with the multiple crises of environmental, energy, and economic changes, all of which trigger our addiction to violence. Some of us on some days are racing toward the edge of the cliff. At this point (A) there is much alarm and protest as the abyss of chaos and the unknown fills the field of vision. Guilt and blame are common, the illusion of control still seems possible, along with a rising sense of disbelief that disaster is imminent.
On other days we may be at the bottom (B), completely disoriented, powerless and under tremendous pressure — nothing works anymore — there is no hope, no trust, we are in free fall, enveloped in darkness, very sad and depressed. It is a crisis, a very big crisis with a very uncertain outcome. This is where being born and dying have a great similarity!
In our culture we avoid the grief process, the process of letting go and getting ready for change, the re-birth process. The first part of the grief process is denial, in which we become numb to our feelings and our intuition. This stage has become a permanent part of life for most of our population, it seems, who are repeating the addictive cycles that I illustrated earlier. The second stage of grief is anger, outrage, and part of our population — the cynical and the protesters — have entered this part of the cycle, and may seem to remain in it for a long time.
The third stage, which we almost never see in Western culture, is feeling the totality of the sadness for what is being lost, losing control of our feelings and letting them pour out. In our culture we need more safety and support for this kind of “disconnect” process. It takes a great deal of self-worth that we gain from our personal and family relationships, to take that leap. We have to believe that someone or something will show us how to fly. And here is the key to freedom: going through this terror, this free-fall of seeming to be out of control, allows people to unlock their frozen feelings and accept their role, their response-ability, their power for moving forward, which is the fourth stage.
We all have this ability to respond to change, to adapt, to grow. We often use the word responsibility in the phrase “taking responsibility” or “assuming responsibility,” with the meaning of accepting blame and the heroic duty to repair whatever is wrong. This way of using the word can cause us to take on overwhelming problems and feel totally stuck. On the other hand, if we think of ourselves as “giving our response-ability,” then a whole new range of options open up for us, and we can flow into solutions that were otherwise impossible. I believe that all it takes to transform the world is for me to transform myself into a more accepting, response-able, and forgiving person, one that is a vocal, vulnerable, and vital part of a community. That’s all I have to do, nothing more than that, nothing less than that, and nothing is more important than that transformation.
When I change my inner world, my external behavior shifts to match, and I become a creative source of systemic change. The more creative that I am, the more response-able I am. Having a better idea is far more effective for producing social transformation than anger, blame and revolt. One person who owns the desired result, saying to themselves, “this is my right, to be free from violence, this is mine to do,” can cause, ripple by ripple, the violence system to dissolve. What makes it more real, more achievable for them is the vision, the map, of the intermediate steps. Even though I am using The Peace Alliance as my model, this can happen in any number of ways. We do not claim to have “the answer,” because we don’t know what it really is, all we have is a crude map. There are many paths that all lead to the same place.
Suppose you begin standing for peace by simply wearing a Department of Peace button and informing yourself about the legislation. The next step is to be part of a congressional district team that focuses on lobbying that district’s congressman. That team is part of entire state of similar teams in other districts, and regional conferences that network with other states. At the national conference in Washington, D.C., your local team delegation can learn citizen lobbying skills, meet the leaders of the movement and walk the halls of Congress, door-belling for the end of violence.
Eventually, enough members of Congress will be getting so many postcards and phone calls from their constituents that they pass a bill into law that moves the original intent of a Department of Peace forward. After the first year of operation, statistical reports will show that prevention efforts have already saved hundreds of thousands of lives, increased productivity, and boosted the economy. The nonviolent peace-force will be making headlines in the news. To me, these are the signs of a culture recovering from violence.
Other departments in the government, even Congressmen, begin to catch on to the partnership model, and cooperation begins to replace competition within the government. Our foreign policy transforms into a renewed emphasis on development and diplomacy initiatives.
The nation and the world will be electrified by the idea of preventing wars and interpersonal violence, and other nations that have already participated in the Global Alliance will form similar Departments. The United Nations finally begins to realize its full potential to create healing and reconciliation among the nations, as they all cooperate to end starvation, water shortages, illiteracy, poverty, homelessness, and disease. With healthy growth and development of children, and full employment of adults, the root causes of violence shrink to minor concerns, and cooperative problem-solving becomes the norm. The entire world will experience a renaissance of creative genius and wisdom. Instead of an individual being in competition with everyone, the whole world will be in support of each individual.
I know peace is inevitable. Just as surely as the atomic bomb resulted from the technology and science of nuclear fission, so also will its demise result from the technology and science of nonviolent conflict resolution. The CIA already has the ability to identify the factors that lead to failed states, which is the data we need to guide prevention efforts. The technology of peace is being developed by the more than 450 universities offering peace studies degrees. There are countless non-governmental organizations developing field-proven techniques for reducing violence in families, schools, gangs, prisons, and ethnic groups. Most people will tell you that the non-violent, peaceful, and beloved community that King and Gandhi envisioned is really where they would prefer to live, and they are in despair about our culture ever providing that for them.
As soon as the dilemma is re-framed as our personal need to uncover — release — our ability to respond to our frustration, our anger, our sadness, with creative solutions, that problem disappears. When we can say to ourselves, “I belong here on this earth. I deserve — all people deserve — to be free from violence. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me,” THAT is the real beginning of recovery from violence dependency.
I would like to hear from you now if I have helped you in any way to lift despair, impart hope and/or empowered you in any way to channel your energy into service for building a culture of peace. What is that I said that struck you as either particularly helpful or troubling?
A postscript (Dec. 18, 2009): In corresponding with John Naugle of Atlanta City of Peace and reviewing my own motivations for working energetically at the local level, I find a radical, quasi-libertarian, almost anarchist (I’m not a political scientist, so I’m not sure what all these words really mean) impatience with the domination system, especially as it is expressed in our federal government. I have begun to believe that talking nice-nice to them in Congressional offices is a waste of energy and the only way HR808 will make it through Congress is for the citizens to self-organize and make real Departments of Peace at the local level and prove to those retarded numbskulls that it really works. At the very least, creating citizen involvement in peace-building practices (neighborhood conflict-resolution training is already being funded here in Eugene!) will create the groundswell of support for HR808 or even better, a 250-word bill. The people lead, the leaders follow.
I reflect that this is my style. Just do it. Detroit (or Washington) is too damn slow. I made an electric vehicle so that people on the street wouldn’t just skip over the idea of an electric car because of their mental “yeah-but” programming, they could see a solution in action, touch it, ask questions, and have their mind opened wider to the possibility that an electric car just might be more FUN than the clunker they’re driving.
We’re going to make peace fun by putting it in the hands of the people. I am organizing a City of Peace.