Posts Tagged ‘violence’


The Root of Violence: Solutions for a Beleaguered World

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When I was in high school and the world’s population was at about 4 billion, I saw a video about an experiment in rat overcrowding. The researchers showed very clearly that up until a certain population the rats were civil, harmonious and happy. When they became overcrowded, the rats turned on each other and a cycle of violence began. I remembered wondering where that tipping point was for humanity.

Today the world’s population stands at about 7 billion, ready to top 8 billion in the next decade. I cannot help but wonder if the world is getting too crowded to maintain civil societies. At least in the old models.

Fortunately, we are not rats. We are human beings with a plethora of ingenious human tools at our disposal, the foremost being a thinking, self-reflective brain. We can not only reshape our environment, we can also reshape our bodies, personalities and even our own brains.

Clearly, it is time to evolve.

What would it take to stop the violence?

Currently it is popular to blame religion for violence. But I don’t buy it. Historically, nationalism was blamed for wars. But we didn’t abolish nations, nor could we. Anymore than we can abolish religion. The search for God and religion seems to be hardwired into the very fabric of humanity. And that’s potentially a good thing. Innumerable hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable endeavors have been supported by large religious bodies.

Look, I’m a therapist. I’ve spent a lifetime peering into the hidden mechanisms of human consciousness. I’ve worked with victims and perpetrators of violence, religious, atheist, you name it.

And the root of violence is pretty simple. The recipe is this: take a human ego, prone to intense biological impulses like sex and aggression, add a dose of rejection, violence, or trauma and withhold empathy, attachment and kindness. Don’t forget to add the testosterone, or all that violence will turn inwards. This is the basic formula; there are of course endless ways to “spice” things up. Anything that disinhibits a human helps: drugs, a charismatic leader, any kind of reward real or imagined, spiritual or material. You get the picture.

When the world becomes an overall less kinder place to be, when governments exist to punish and control rather than support, when adults are too busy trying to survive than to connect, when children are subjected to all manner of abuse growing up, when basic needs are withheld (food, shelter, education), then we can be sure the rise of violence is around the corner.
My little piece of contribution centers around psychological trauma. Like the tipping point for rat populations, I believe that there is a tipping point for the number of citizens with untreated abuse and trauma issues that starts to unravel societies and the fabric of civilization gets weak, gauzy and prone to tears.

That is why I wrote The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. But one book is not enough to stem the tide.

If we want to turn this around we need the biggest investment in our humanity the world has ever seen.

Our healthcare system is broke.
Out educational system is broke.
Our national aggression is disproportionately funded.
PTSD is a national (and global) epidemic.
Our TV and media is a wasteland of violence, sex and empty, puerile stories aimed at the basest nature of humans.
Adults can’t find meaningful work or time to connect.
Children can’t get their emotional needs met so they are turning to early sex, drugs, computers and violent videogames.

Like the global climate crisis we are in, we are in a crisis of our own humanity.

We need to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be human? Are we living lifestyles that are in alignment with our values and ideals, or have we given up?

The answers are simple. Accomplishing them requires insight, wisdom and the will of the people.

1) Convert from a permanent wartime economy to a peace economy. Stop trying to control the world and get back to taking care of American citizens.
2) Reinstate the important status of mothers in the world by funding them to stay home with their children as needed. Working mothers is a redundant, and obnoxious term. We need to recognize that all mothers are, by definition, working.
3) Stop projecting our own internal demons onto other groups: immigrants, “terrorists”, “dirty hippies”, whatever. And affirm the dignity of all human beings, the vast majority of whom merely seek to be happy.
4) Reign in the vast greed industries and interests in Washington.
5) Recognize that only people are people. Corporations are sociopathic entities.
6) Fund a single payer healthcare system and come into the 21st century.
7) Throw out the educational dictates of the last 20 years and create sound educational ideas that really engage students and teachers in learning in the new millennium.
8) Turn off your TV. Or at least have enforced rules about usage .
9) Heal your traumas. Help yourself.
10) Recognize that your children, friends and neighbors may be struggling quietly and desperately in need of help. Help them.
11) Spend more time with your kids. Quality is not enough. Quantity is also required for healthy kids. Don’t let computers and TV parent.
12) Create community events for connection. Host a potluck once/month. Get involved. Talk to your neighbors. Get over your fear of the ‘other’.
13) MEDITATE. Rats can’t meditate, we can. If we all just calmed down and healed our own brains, it would be enough.

OK, then. We do have choices. It’s either us or no one. We can cower in fear waiting for the next attack, the next screw gone loose, or we can start changing our communities here and now.

I vote for now. I’ll go meditate on it, and then I will act.




The Semantics of Rape

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Here is the definition of rape from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

Noun: the crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with him without their consent and against their will, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them: he denied two charges of attempted rape | he had committed at least two rapes.

Verb: (if a man) to force another person to have sexual intercourse with him without their consent and against their will, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them: the woman was raped at knifepoint.

Notice how that word “force” is used in both definitions of the word rape? Paul Ryan and those who wrote legislation with him apparently didn’t and somehow felt that they needed to redundantly modify rape with the word “forcible”. This is both insensitive and stupid.

Have you heard how water is powerfully wet? Or that mud is dirty? How about fatal murder or hot arson? You get my point. Aside from being poor English, this kind of language seeks to diminish women’s (and men’s) experience that rape is a form of violence that causes intense suffering over a long period of time. It suggests that there is a kindler, gentler rape that is somehow not forcible, perhaps even enjoyable as one Texan Republican gubernatorial nominee recently suggested.

By using the inflammatory words “legitimate rape” Republican nominee Todd Akin and others suggested to the American public that there is a form of rape that is OK. This is a powerful form of double speak, a sophisticated hypnotic suggestion to the audience that both suggests that rapes could maybe be OK in some circumstances while holding women responsible for proving the severity of rape to begin with and making them doubt themselves with the ridiculous suggestion that if they become pregnant it wasn’t a “real” rape.

In reality, rape is a terrible thing to come to terms with. The mind naturally wants to deny that it even happened. As I say in The Trauma Tool Kit: “the mind swerves away from trauma like a car careening around a deep, dark puddle…avoidance is nobody’s fault but is the very nature of trauma itself.” 

Either through deep cynicism or ignorance those who minimize rape (for some reason they are mostly male Republican candidates for office) are siding with the part of the brain that does not want to acknowledge the severity of this trauma. They want to keep the public in denial. Some want to legitimize their own or others’ bad behavior.

This is extreme dysfunction, folks. In order to heal society we need to call out every type of trauma for healing and expose it to the healthy light of day, not shove it back in the closet where it festers and stinks up the place. Every victim needs to be acknowledged and given access to healing. Every perpetrator needs to be brought to justice. If our candidates cannot speak truth and bring healing, then they do not deserve to hold a microphone, much less hold office.




Broken Bodies, Broken Hearts: How You Can Help in the Wake of the Colorado Shootings

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I have taken time to digest the terrible news out of Colorado, that innocent people in a movie theater could be surprised by such a vicious tornado of violence when they were least expecting it. Like many, I have read accounts of tremendous heroism and the anguish of those who lost loved ones. I know that many in that theater will suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress in the coming months and years. 

Years ago I went through a period of tremendous loss due to the awful effects of an individual’s sociopathic behavior on people I love. At that time I entered a period of tremendous confusion. I had so many emotions; I hardly knew where to begin. The best advice came from a sensitive soul, a healer, someone who was a stranger to me. He simply said, “Let your heart be broken.”

This terrible event leaves us all feeling more helpless and confused than we were before. Many of us want to offer help. How can we, with an event that is so private and so public at the same time?

I would offer the same words that were offered to me. Let your hearts be broken. 

We have an important choice. We can open ourselves fully to the pain of this event, grieve, feel and become soft with compassion. 

Or we can harden our hearts, look for someone to blame, egoically imagine how it would have gone down if we were there. Or even if we were there with a gun as I have seen many touting on the internet. 

The truth is that this killer is a very shut down human being, someone who made a choice somewhere along the line to harden his heart. The end point of hardness of hearts is always violence on a greater or lesser scale. When we look away, shut down, become vengeful we only add more violence to the collective. This behavior, these thoughts, may be natural. But they cannot help. They cannot heal. They cannot prevent. 

What requires courage, what is truly heroic, is softening into the event. Breathing, empathizing, feeling, releasing our collective feelings are the only true way I’ve ever seen people heal. And it is the only way to prevent future cycles of violence.

Our emotions are layered, interlinked. Health means we flow through them. To get stuck in one, such as anger, creates pathology and damage. If we really breathe into our horror we may find anger. If we really breathe into our anger we may find grief. If we really breathe into our grief we may find helplessness and sadness. If we really contemplate our sadness, helplessness, grief, anger and horror and let ourselves move through these fully, we will eventually and inevitably move out the other side into compassion. 

We will realize that there is really nobody outside of this event. Not the victims, not the perpetrator and not the bystanders. We are all part of the collective human family. And what happens to one of us, at some level, happens to us all.

We can join it or separate ourselves from it. Do we have the courage to feel, to assist in healing? Do we have the strength to keep our hearts soft and open? This is not a task for the faint of heart. Acting in violence is always easier than tolerating intolerable feelings. There are many grown men who would rather hurt, maim or kill than feel their feelings.

So, I invite you again to let your heart be broken, broken wide open. Let yourself be one with those bleeding, grieving, those in confusion, not in a puerile kind of sentimentality, but in the heart of courage that can change the world. Once our hearts are fully open and engaged we will know exactly what we need to do without adding a single drop of violence to this terrible event.




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