Tonight just brought me a little closer to my own Unified Theory of Everything. Still not quite there, though. Apologize in advance for some rambling…
It was another “Holy shit! How did the Universe conspire (yet again) to bring the perfect people into my life at just the perfect time?” kind of night. I found myself at a training for yoga and meditation teachers who teach in jails, put on by the ManAlive (I think it stands for Men Allied Nationally Against Living In Violent Environments) group.
I have been pondering the concept of aggression and violence the past couple of months. Really, my whole life. But there’s been a spotlight on the last couple of months.
First off, I dated a man this year who referred to me as “The most aggressive woman I have ever met. Quick to get angry. Violent.” And, what do you know, I felt the same way about him! Coincidence that we have the exact same birthday (April 16)? Probably not. Anyway…
As a coach I’ve been thinking a lot about anger and violence as well. I need to find a way to give my students tools to understand how to prevent anger from turning into violence, and rather channel it into passion and creativity. They realize that violence has self-harming and community-harming effects that are counter-productive to their own success.
What I learned tonight was at once disturbing, intuitively correct, and unifying. Disturbing in that it challenged the very core values of our society and culture, and, as a microcosm, the way my family raised me. Here’s what was so disturbing & yet intuitive: The ineffectiveness of violence/competition/hierarchy, and the merits of equality/intimacy.
We’re moving that way as a country, and who’s to say it’s the wrong way?: women’s rights and equality, racial rights and equality, animal rights and equality, sexual rights and equality, and yet we still haven’t really tackled class equality (S. Brian Willson). As the teacher tonight said, if I make 25K/year, and you make 100K/year, we probably live in different parts of town, and don’t get to know each other all that well. We probably start making assumptions about the other person’s inferiority/superiority…
My home growing up was a hierarchical environment, enforced by violence. Class was an issue. Competition, pride, and superiority/inferiority were all, to some extent, encouraged as values, from how my mother/father treated each other, to how we played board games. What I am slowly learning is that this is a fear-based environment, where needs, weaknesses and pain often go un-acknowledged and control and superiority are rewarded. There is no real intimacy, with hurt and fears buried mostly unaddressed beneath calloused exteriors.
The family unit being a microcosm of society, we also see these values reflected in the actions our government takes on our behalf. We often collectively condemn our government’s violent actions against other people in other countries. This violence comes at the hands of our brothers and sisters, our soldiers, who must objectify the “opponent” in order to justify killing them. They are called gooks, or sand-monkeys, or whatever, anything to make them seem less than human. We condemn our soldiers for appearing weak or emotional. We compete fiercely in our businesses for resources.
Competition thrives on the idea that resources are limited. To some extent, in the larger world, this is true. This is where fear takes root and starts to permeate our everyday interactions. For example, there is not enough fresh water from aquifers around the world to sustain world population 100 years out at current rates of usage. Same goes with oil reserves. Time and money are somewhat limited resources. We play mock games of competition instinctively, from a young age, to prove to ourselves that we are, in fact, superior, and therefore worthy of continued existence on this planet, prepared for that one day we’d have to fight for our personal survival.
But the cold, hard truth, that no one is really talking about, is that “we” humans are not really designed to be “superior” nor “more worthy” than any other life form, in order to inherit this floating blue globe all to ourselves. The fact of the matter is that the best outcome we can possibly hope for is to sustain the entire system, sharing and working as one, for as long as we can. Because although we are well-built for competition, we also have frontal lobes large enough to “predict” that we cannot kill all the other humans and living things that compete with our resources and still hope to survive on this planet. Lack of diversity leads to quick, mass calamities in ecosystems. We are interdependent. Humans, though able to act on a large scale, know instinctively that the balance of life must be maintained to some degree. So ultimate competition, with only one winner, is not the answer.
So our base animal instincts, which tell us that we are alive and yet vulnerable to death and so to be afraid, do not appear to serve us except in very immediate, actual life/death situations. I cannot think of any other circumstance in which violence is the most effective tool for the prosperity of the species on a long-term basis. In relations with other countries, just as in relations with other people, violence will appear to “solve” a short-term situation while creating long-term deficits in trust, safety, understanding, and cooperation. Best always to “talk it out” and invest the patience and neutrality that intimacy requires, so that both parties can address their base fears without having those fears escalate into an immediate fear of loss of life. Likely, those basic fears will always boil down to this same issue for both sides: How are we going to survive in this environment with you? What do we have in common and how can we help one another? We sometimes answer this question by simply seeing who can kill each other more and faster.
The world needs to remember that we will all have the best combined chance of survival through transparency and cooperation. We’re not really as different from each other as we like to think we are. We need to set agreements and hold each other accountable to them. By uniting and treating every citizen of this planet as if they were an equal life form equally worthy of existence and entitled to a fair share of resources, we collectively win, and only then can we make intelligent decisions collectively about our uses of resources, etc. It’s a more stable game for everyone. Of course you could make an argument that those who are unwilling to negotiate intimately are actually the ones who deserve to die, because negotiating furthers the species as a whole (Homo sapiens). Am I going down the wrong path now?
All I know is that when you are number one (#1), you learn that it is lonely at the top. And what you learn is that you weren’t really that special after all, and that others are just as equally valuable as you are, just with different talents. And that you did not get there alone. And that the top is just an illusion of safety.
In the words of Rumi: “Love is the cure, for your pain (violence) will keep giving birth to more pain (violence) until your eyes constantly exhale love as effortlessly as your body yields its scent.”