On Violence & Nonviolence
What are some of the deeper, more personal origins of the violence that saturates our world? And what can an average person do about it?
First, let’s define violence:
The word violence comes from the Latin word violare, which means “to violate, wound, or dishonor”. Violence is what pours forth through our unresolved wounds, both personal and cultural, in either a passive or more extreme expression.
What is a wound?
The original meaning of the word wound is “a great separation”. Anything that wounds or separates a single being from itself or its love of self, or from the Oneness or its sense of belonging to the Oneness, is a form of violence.
Humanity’s extreme separation from nature is itself a kind of widespread, underlying wound. And interestingly, the word bewilderment literally means “separation from the wilderness”. We are confused without this connection.
The spectrum of violence.
We usually think of violence as enacting physical harm, like war, rape, and other physical assaults. But violence can also be psychological or spiritual, or what is called passive violence. Passive violence is everything from unkind words or gestures, to gossiping, shaming, or denying the soulful existence of other sentient beings.
Extreme violence is the accumulation of passive violence. Of passive violence gone unchecked and unacknowledged for too long.
It’s important to understand that passive violence is ultimately the most destructive, not only because it’s hard to see and therefore hard to stop, but also because passive violence is the fuel behind all physical and other extreme expressions of violence.
Most of us are guilty of passive violence, but the good news is that this means we each have the power to diminish the total violence in the world by withdrawing our share. Violence is a potential in our world and it will always be here as an ember; we don’t have a choice about that. But we do have a choice about whether or not we let an ember become a flame.
Learn to recognize less-seen violence.
Violence can be directed toward oneself (excessive self-criticism or self-hatred, for example) or toward others, but it’s the same energy either way. Allowing inward self-violence is still a contribution to the total collective energy of violence in our world.
Cultual norms and biases can normalize and make us numb to certain expressions of violence. Consider examining the possibility of normalized violence in your culture, community, or personal life.
Create a new vision.
Think of yourself as one cell in the collective body of existence. Each cell has a responsibility to be the healthiest cell it can be, for its own well-being and for the health of the greater body it belongs to. It’s in our own self-interest and the collective interest to withdraw and transform our individual contribution to violence at all levels, passive and physical, inward and outward. And then if possible, to reach out and heal the parts of the world within our reach.
Stop for a moment and imagine just your immediate surroundings with people who held the intention to live this way. You can start there, at the center of your own community, and create this very healthy pocket of cells by being a true, living example. By lighting another way.
Explore your inner workings and learn peaceful abiding.
Where we have wounds or blindspots, we are more likely to do harm, even if that isn’t our conscious intention. Or perhaps we are wounded in a way that is preventing us from sharing our goodness with a world that really needs it. This is why it’s a gift not only to ourselves but also to the whole when we commit to doing our own inner work, to becomming more conscious of our nuanced inner workings, and of what we’re contributing or withholding.
The feeling that leads to violence, whether passive or extreme, is always some kind of pain, and our instinct is to get rid of it as quickly as we can. To achieve this, the untrained mind will typically do one or more of these three things:
• try to give it to someone else
• turn it inwardly on oneself
• or try to repress it
Unfortunately, none of these choices manage to eliminate the pain. The energy is only transferred or moved, and often amplified.
Instead, we need to take ourselves through a process that alchemically changes the pain to understanding and a change in perspective. In the short term, this is absolutely more work. But in the long term, it’s actually a much easier way to live.
As you learn to gaze more lovingly at your own wounds and your own passive violence, you’ll develop a steadiness that will allow you to abide peacefully in difficult moments, instead of reacting and instead of repressing.
Remember: we are not born as finished products. We come here as potential, to be developed. Allow yourself to learn, and know that you have a piece of the cure for suffering, yours and ours, in your own hands. Our individual choices do affect the world, even if the far-reaching results are not immediately visible or directly experienced.
Consider, for today, one area in your life where you allow yourself to react in an unkind way (towards yourself or another). Just pick one area in which to work, and start there. Go day by day and if you mess up, reflect on what you need to do differently and try again. And always remember that there are teachers, guides, and other resources ready and willing to help you. You are not on this journey alone.
As one of my own teachers once so beautifully said:
“You are a flock, humanity, that has lost its way home. But through a commitment to a new awareness, one finds the way home, one wing touches another. And the flock is gathering itself, first a one and then a more until the symptoms of disharmony are simply clouds, and the vision at the horizon is one of a billion entities wing to wing and there is no symptom to be heard.”
Or in the words by Kemmy Nola:
“Love the world in an ever widening circle of kindness, and keep loving until the day when love conquers all hatred, and no one and no thing is excluded from love’s tender embrace.”