Violence has been with us and part of us since the dawn of our creation. It is expressed in our ways of being territorial, the instinct toward domination, and our thirst for vengeance. It is rooted in separation, division, scarcity; the makings of enemies. Our ways of being violent and our reasons for it have changed and increased in complexity, just as our culture and all that it creates and carries has as well.
We live in and amongst systems and structures of dominance that are organized around concepts of goodness and promises of salvation, and we for the most part adhere to these messages and elevate them. We are indoctrinated by family, school, religion, government. We invest in and build our sense of self around what we are taught is appropriate, favorable, well behaved. We learn that to defy these codes and criteria is met by punishment, pain, rejection. We fail to see how these systems themselves are violent and how they initiate us into violence as well.
Therefore, in our conditioned quest to be “good” we make violence an aspect of “the other”. To be “the other” is to be an out-lier, a deviant, a cast off. This allows many of us to live in a willful delusion that we are not violent. Not me, not us, only them. We dehumanize the “othered” in our culture; bad eggs, lost causes, depraved, evil. We make a world of them versus us. This othering is, itself, a form of violence.
I was one of them. I am one of them. These days I can easily pass for one of you, but there is no you, no them, there is only us.
We cannot escape our violence.
I am violent and so are you.
Violence is a spectrum and you are on it. Where you are on it does not prove much of anything about your character or reveal an inherent quality of goodness in you.
Under the right conditions we are all capable of any amount of violence that humans are capable of, that is our nature.
If we want to transform the violence that is rampant in our society we need to get real about it. As long as we continue to point our fingers at everyone else and wrap ourselves in a cloak of imagined purity, there will be no end to this.
Until we sit fully in the pain, grief, and accountability we all share for what we have created here together there will be no transformation.
We rationalize most of our violence by justifying it as deserved punishment. We love vengeance, we embrace it.
Someone says something or does something we don’t like, we call them stupid, we question their intelligence or worthiness, we beat them up with words or with silence, or in the right conditions we actually beat them up.
We go to war.
We kill people. Or someone does it for us.
We send people to prison by the millions in this country. We are deeply punitive in our belief systems and our actions with and among each other. Punishment is a form of violence whether it is justifiable or not, and on its own it is not transformative or redemptive.
I always come back to the questions, “What do I want? What do I hope to create?”
We must ask ourselves hard questions and brace ourselves to do the deep and uncomfortable work that is sure to be required, if it is a culture that is healing its violence that we wish to foster and grow.
We will all have to start with ourselves, our families, under our own roofs and in our own hearts and minds. That is the only way.
Coming to an awakened awareness, “I am violent.”
That is the beginning.
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