This violence — whatever violence comes to mind — this culture of violence has been in place for thousands of years. I inherited those underlying, invisible assumptions about how to resolve conflict. I was whipped, punched, slapped, insulted, ostracized and victimized. I had nightmares of being incinerated by a nuclear weapon. I learned how to intimidate others with a gun when I was only 8 years old. I learned how to yell, hit and bite to defend myself. I learned how to wish other people dead, and I helplessly witnessed their explosive and bloody deaths glorified on the big screen. I became a violent person, not by choice but by default.
There are only a few degrees of separation between any one of us and the shooters. They are the mirror to our shadow side, the persona of our angry, powerless, despairing, blaming and traumatized selves that wants one and only one thing: real, permanent security. The shooters demonstrate how in moments of stress and injury that can no longer be tolerated, the ultimate tool for returning to stability is violence, no matter how short-lived that satisfaction may be. So intense is the need for security, the need to be right, the need to be powerful, that any sacrifice of self or others becomes worthwhile.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 11 thousand homicides and 21 thousand suicides by firearms in 2013. The CDC terms violence an “epidemic,” the same as any other disease, and it is a dis-ease, a profound discomfort. Let’s reflect on the fact that the number of suicides is nearly twice the number of homicides. What kind of disease related to a loss of stability and security would cause someone to kill themselves, to perceive themselves as the enemy worthy of death? In what way are they broken, exactly?
I have wanted to kill myself, several times. I became obsessed with the belief that I had caused irreparable damage to, and become a burden to, the people around me and would never be able to contribute anything positive to their lives. I had become my own worst enemy. Since then, I have learned the term “toxic shame” to describe what I was thinking, and I have observed toxic shame as the basis for not only suicide, but also homicide, which is simply the shame turned outwards into “toxic blame.” This is what is broken: a belief, a story about ourselves that is absolutely intolerable. What is so horrifying is that we almost all have this same story, and we all try to repress it with incredibly clever strategies.
We try to satisfy our need for security with anger, overwork, shopping, eating, sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, care-taking others, thrill-seeking in person or as a voyeur, or any number of other gambits, all of which are only temporary and cyclical. These strategies, taken together, form the culture of violence in which we are entangled. The violence is directed toward ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and our planet home. The instability of our physical environment has become a mirror and metaphor for the overheated insecurity within ourselves.
We have become profoundly uncomfortable, our needs for security have not been met, and we are literally bouncing off the walls within our prison of toxic shame. With increasing frequency we are witnessing the walls of our jail — the powerlessness of our governments, institutions and ourselves. After thousands of years, do we know any alternatives to violence begetting more violence?
The despair that we feel in the present about shooters, police brutality and refugees — that despair is the cutting edge of our collective desire for a world without war, without poverty, without racism — a world beyond imagination for most of us. We know what it is that we do not want. Despair begs us to answer the questions, what is it that we really do want, how would we know when we had it, how would it be measured, and what baby steps are we willing to take in that direction?
This violence will end. This is truly the end of the world as we have known it to be. Contained within all of our collective pain is the insatiable desire for connection, inclusion, mutual support and contribution to each other’s lives. This is the new story. Call it love, call it peace, call it nonviolence, call it a world that works for everyone, over the last 70 years or so the self-conscious construction of organized efforts to co-create a new story about ourselves has only increased in momentum and popularity. Networks of networks are becoming synchronous in goals and actions. We are learning how to become our own best friends, forgiven and accepted just as we are, full of potential blessings for the world, worthy of a life of harmony.
Measurements of human resilience, happiness, security and prosperity are now correlated with self-management of our emotions, attitudes and attention. It has become common knowledge that a relaxed and playful, even child-like, attentiveness to problems will generally lead to more satisfying results. Millions of people globally have abandoned the old story in search of a new one, and no, we are not finished. I may have broken the story of overt violence in my family yet the shadow of violent thoughts remain. Nobody else can replace my old story with a new one but me, yet every other person on this quest is creating the permission and encouragement for me to do so, and every baby step that I take reflects that same permission and encouragement back to them.
We have no choice but to let go of the notion that “we” is a word that does not include “them,” the crazy and hysterically dangerous ones, that we are somehow on a polarized continuum with a void in the middle. One of the most ancient principles of martial arts is to become one with your enemy, become empathic in the most extreme way, defeat your own urges to become angry and impulsive, and to never be where your enemy can hit you. To do this takes training and practice at focusing the mind and removing all fear. Then what is left is only a dance: no struggle, only effortless movement. The enemy — if there is such a thing — and in this case is an entire belief system — becomes exhausted, loses energy, and collapses under its own weight.
To summarize, what are our options for transcending this culture of violence?
1) each one of us individually seeking nonviolence in our own thoughts, words, and deeds,
2) each one of us seeking connection with others who walk the nonviolence path,
3) collectively discovering and constructing a local nonviolent social structure,
4) networking with other groups, globally, who are also moving outside the status quo,
5) making the network and structures visible,
6) in a moment of crisis, offering the alternative to the status quo directly and be prepared to take no for an answer,
7) while waiting for all this to happen, keep breathing, praying, singing and dancing.
Said with love,