The Lie of Redemptive Violence

We are all standing here at yet another precipice, overlooking the atrocities of what we as a species are capable of. I am angry, sad, horrified, and frightened just to top the list of the emotions I am feeling in this single moment. If you are anything like me I am certain you feel similarly. And it varies, cycles through from each passing second to the next, from white knuckles to free-falling to spiraling out of control. This is where we are, and we have to know where we are before we know where to go next.

Before reading further, stop, take three deep breaths, drop in to your body and feel where you are. Don’t try to change it, just feel it, love it, and embrace it. Take all that anger and whatever else has been building up and own it. Do not control it, just hold it and feel that it is part of you and not all of you.

This is where you are.

This is the first step in our recovery.

What has happened and is happening is not okay, and something must change. Violence, for whatever reason, is not okay. We have been telling the story over and over again for ages: you (the other) and your family have caused violence upon me (the self) and my family, so in retribution I/we will bring violence upon you/them. In theory this will bring justice for the wrongs committed. In practice this perpetuates the committing of the wrongs. As we bring violence down upon our neighbor we sow the seeds of hate and distrust of the imagined figure of the ‘other’. This falsehood that violence redeems and justifies violence is so deeply ingrained in our culture that you can see it in so many of the stories that we tell.

Take for example most any action movie that you have recently watched. The main character has something taken from them, some violent action committed against their family or tribe. In return, they must go on a rampaging quest seeking vengeance for this unforgiveable act. They train or do whatever is necessary to prepare themselves for the journey, and then they go out and hurt or kill those that brought harm upon them. Usually there is some romance or happy ending that comes from it all, and we see the credits roll.

The story is fascinating and intrinsically disturbing, and we are drawn to it like a fly to Piggy’s head.

Why is this? Why has our nature been to incite violence upon violence upon one heinous act after the other?

We certainly cast a terrifying shadow.

Does the perpetual bloodshed right the scales of balance? If we pose this question in the viewing glass of our shared history we get a clear and definitive no. Power only shifts from one side of the scales to the other. It goes from one hand to the other, oppressing one peoples then another, then another, and another. We have played this game back and forth ad nauseum.

So what are the other options? Should we just stop, and continue to let the oppressor’s knee slowly crush us, stopping our breath to the point where we cry out to our mothers for the sweet relief of death? No, we cannot, and I will not. That, again, only allows the violence to continue. We cannot stand by and let injustice grow rampant in our midst. There must be another way.

Hold on, let’s stop again.

Take another set of deep breaths. Drop into your body.

Where are you now?

Are you still angry? I am. Rightfully so, this cannot continue.

I encourage all of us to search deep and identify our values. If we start to understand what we know at our core is important to us, then it makes it easier to move forward and set healthy boundaries. At this time we have all experienced an unacceptable level of invasion in our lives. Some of us fully unaware that we had the boundary before it was crossed. That often seems to be the case for me with my boundaries. To be honest I never even knew what a boundary was and that I could set them until this last decade. But it is one of the most important things I’ve learned in my life, and I am continuously being reminded of that fact.

So take some time and write about what you find most important in life, and set those as tenants to try and adhere to in living the life you want to live. They will change throughout your life and hopefully start to be refined down to a core essence. At that core, what do you find? Do you see that you want to be treated with respect and dignity? Do you want freedom? What else do you want? Our answers may be different, but I am willing to bet that at the core they are all the same. Just as I know at the core we are all the same. Unique in our own ways and at the same time we have an undeniable oneness; an interesting paradox of One and Different.

Let’s pause again, let that sink in.

Take another few deep breaths if it feels right and reflect on what that means for you.

So where can we go from here? We have seen where we are, where we have gone and where that leads us, is there another way?

We have all heard the old saying “turn the other cheek”, and in our current context it means to turn away from our assailant, to basically hand them the power. However that was not the original intention of the phrase. This phrase was written by an oppressed people that lived in a fiercely hierarchical society. In this culture they used their left hand for cleaning themselves and the right hand for engaging or touching other people and things. When someone of higher status would strike a servant or someone of lower class they would slap them with the back of their hand, because to hit them with their fist would be a sign that they are equals. So if one uses the back of their right hand to go to strike you and you “turn the other cheek”, to avoid an awkward slap they are then forced to hit you with their fist showing that they are treating you as an equal, or to not hit you at all. This shifts the power, setting both of you on equal footing.

What does all that mean? Well, yes, if you are the oppressed in this situation you may get hit in the face. Not a fun time. But you are standing in the face of abusive power and saying “No, we will not take this anymore.” Do you see where this is going? If we stand up for our equality and start thinking about a third way, we begin the process of disarming and dismantling a broken and corrupt system. This takes tremendous bravery, and beyond that it takes oceans of creativity. Honestly, inciting violence with violence is boring. Its cliché and way overplayed. If we choose a new way we step into a higher level of being, we can discover more of the amazing and seemingly limitless potential of what it means to be a human, we usher in an entirely new age of profound enlightenment.

Pause. Breathe. How do you feel now?

Our forward movement relies not only on our capacity for third way thinking, but to engage in shadow work. This is our ability to look at our own dark side. I am all too familiar with this process, and honestly every time I am faced with it I want to run and hide. It is too easy to ignore the horrible things we are capable of, and even more difficult to face the awful things we have done. Yeah, it is scary. It sucks to live with the shame of the things we have done to hurt ourselves and the people we love. Yet we must face them, and we must forgive ourselves.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Does the person staring back at you make you angry? Disappointed? Sad? I’ve been there. But if we can start to accept ourselves for the entirety of who we are, not just the fun and fuzzy bits, we can start to see that we are not so different from anyone else. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of ourselves, we are just one incredibly complex human having an incredibly complex human experience. Our shadow is just as important as our light. Every single one of us is just as capable of being the one to commit the horrendous atrocities that we have seen humanity inflict upon itself and the natural world throughout time. But that doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human. And the beautiful thing about being a human is that we have a choice, and we are always given a second chance. There is no better story than one of true redemption. That is what I am aiming for. I don’t want any of this revenge nonsense, I want us to redeem ourselves, to show that we have what it takes to evolve and grow and learn from our mistakes.

Let us take a collective look in the mirror and accept all of our history, accept all of our misdeeds and all of our accomplishments, and from that place of acceptance imagine and create a third way forward, something the likes of which can make us proud to be part of the beautiful human species. We cannot be afraid to fail, for we surely will fall, but the only failure would be in giving up. We must find a different way; all of our lives depend on it.

Pause, take three deep breaths, now move forward anew.

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