A Time for Reflection, Part III of III

This is the third installment in my three-part series, “A Time for Reflection.” It is a commentary on the Newtown, CT shootings earlier this year. My first installment was about lack of access to mental health, my second installment was about gun control, and this, the most difficult installment, is about the violence that is so accepted and prevalent in our society. It is so entrenched and goes so deep into our collective consciousness that it can be hard to grasp, and therefore, it took me weeks to write this post.

We live in a violent society. We all acknowledge it, and I have a theory about WHY we’re so violent: all violence stems from fear. Numerous studies have shown that human beings are not inherently violent, but become so in response to fear. We are the most prosperous and militarily powerful nation on earth, yet we are consumed, as a society, with fear: fear of terrorism, criminal attacks, economic collapse, apocalypse, viruses… and one another. The media deserves a large share of the blame, with their constant fear mongering. The TV “news” does not reflect the whole reality of our world; it is carefully chosen and filtered by someone else for us to view. The intention is to create emotion and sensation, and keep us tuning in for more. Our “news” channels are nothing more than a propaganda machine. Even today’s game shows are for more dangerous and humiliating for contestants than those of 30 years ago.

It’s impossible to turn on the TV without being bombarded for ads for pills, for every conceivable “condition.” Two things I’d like to point out about the pills: First off, these pharmaceutical companies do not altruistically focus on a particular disease, with the intention of finding a cure. They mix chemicals and test them on humans. When they find a combination that treats a particular symptom, they spend copious amounts of money to promote it, regardless of potential dangers, including death. When you buy prescriptions, generally speaking, you are paying more for ads than research… pure profit for this monster industry.

My second point is that one thing many mass shooters seem to have in common is their use of these psychotropic prescription medications. Was their violence the result of their mental instability, or the dangerous, under-regulated chemicals coursing through their bodies? Other nations have banned some of these chemicals, but not ours. It’s irresponsible to talk about the violence in our society without taking a look at the violence committed by those with a legally altered consciousness, on drugs known to create erratic, even violent behavior.

We are a nation built on violence, exploitation, and subjugation. I mention this because fear begets greed, which begets violence. From the genocide, rape, and land theft against the Native peoples, to the kidnapping, trafficking, and enslavement of the African tribes, and the exploitation, trafficking, and blatant racism toward Chinese, Irish, and now Hispanic immigrants, we have continued our bloody, shameful legacy. We have been an oligarchy, run by the very wealthy, right from the start. The people who run this country want nothing more than to keep us fearful, medicated, and violent toward one another. So I believe that fear, greed, and violence are incorporated into our cultural psyche.

But I’d like to take it one layer deeper: Why do we buy into the fear? I believe it has to do with how we define power. Fear is generally the result of feeling a threat of losing power or control, over someone or something. We have all we need as a nation, yet it is never enough. The entitlement is burned into our collective psyche, and like a spoiled child, we are overly competitive and insecure, because we perceive power as “things,” and we fear having it all stripped away.

We tend toward violence as a quick solution, in much the same way we rush to take a pill to solve our problems, rather than change our lifestyle. We put a higher value on people who have power manifested externally, such as physical prowess and wealth, rather than valuing every person equally. When we dehumanize people in this way, we pave the way for justifying violence.

I once heard a story I will never forget: in WWII, our soldiers were enlisting by the thousands to serve their country, but were reluctant to kill other humans…we humans aren’t hard-wired for violence, remember. The war propagandists put their heads together, and hired a young cartoonist, named Walt Disney, to draw caricatures of Germans and Japanese with rat and pig faces. This dehumanization had the desired effect, making them “the enemy.“ Americans were more willing to see them as less than human and kill them.

Being aware of how violence is ingrained in our culture is the first step to changing it. It’s also important to understand, especially as we are in the longest war in our history, that violence on higher levels supports violence on lower levels. Everything from domestic violence, to bullying, to racism, to global aggression is part of the same continuum, and is self-perpetuating. In other words, the same excuses we use to hurt those close to us are the same ones we use to justify global violence.

There will always be a tiny percentage of the population that will be psychopathic, and delight in the suffering of others. But much violence in general can be alleviated if we change our outlook. What if we switched our focus on valuing living things instead of inanimate ones? What if we stopped cutting funding to arts and music programs, while glorifying sports in our schools (which sends a message that athletes are the “important” kids)? What if we taught our kids more about cooperation than competition, and giving instead of achieving?

It’s truly up to us to re-evaluate what power really means, and look at authentic power. Picture the last street person you saw and think of your reaction to that person. Was your initial reaction to them based on fear? Gratitude it wasn’t you? Now imagine that same person, cleaned up, in expensive clothing. How would your response be different? This is how we need to shift our thinking if we are going to learn to value one another as equals in our society.

I wonder if things might have turned out differently in Newtown if the shooter’s mother had not been so fearful. She apparently stockpiled food and guns in preparation for something she believed and feared would happen. Even though she had knowledge of her son’s mental instability, she chose to take him to the shooting range to teach him to protect himself from some perceived danger. The danger, in this case, was himself. How incredibly sad for so many people.

We are at an exciting juncture and this is a great time to be alive. We can begin to consciously choose non-violence, and act as inspiration to one another, or we can continue the same old patterns of greed, fear, oppression and violence. We can strive to address the violence on all levels of society, be it interpersonal or international. When we honor and value each human being, there is nothing to fear. When we stop believing that the evening news reflects the norm, we begin to realize that the world is not such a horrible, hateful place. I personally see acts of love and kindness on a daily basis that will never make the news. When we rid ourselves of “us and them,” and understand that we are all “we,” the violence begins to end. Without fear, there is no need anymore.

I write this at the very tail end of 2012, and I am optimistic that we as a species, and hopefully as a society, will continue to evolve spiritually, and learn to love and care for one another… not become more isolated and fearful. I believe in the human spirit’s ability to rise above adversity. Here is my favorite quote of all time, which I find more inspiring than anything I will ever write. I hope you will carry it in your heart this coming year, and that it brings you peace:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Howard Zinn

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