Many of us are troubled about the horrific increase in shootings & violence. Some of us are lobbying hard for gun control. Almost all of us are asking the question “when will this ever change?”
And then a few days pass, and most of us forget about it. Our white-hot passion is replaced with resignation, or a conflict at work, or making sure the kids get to soccer practice. And then it happens again, and again, and again.
We begin with the question, “What can they do?”
This is a very good question. It would be a very good thing for our country to examine and change the process by which a person can gain access to any piece of hardware that can kill someone else. It would be a very good thing for kids without fathers to be mentored. It would be a very good thing for violence to be less glamorized in movies and games that 6 year olds play. We need to ask this question and we need to advocate for systematic change.
And then some of us move to the question, “What can I do?”
This is also a very good question, but you need to stay with it, because you will inevitably feel like there is almost nothing you can do to stop the tsunami of violence that is washing us away. But what if enough of us decided to slowly eradicate violence from our own lives, thought-by-thought and word-by-word?
Violence is cyclical, and contagious. Think about it. Your boss berates you in front of your co-workers, and the sticky shame wash instantly covers you, convincing you of your worthlessness. You don’t have time to process the experience, and when you get home, your kids won’t listen to you, and suddenly you’re screaming at them, surprising even yourself. Then they’re fighting with each other. When we feel shame and we don’t know what to do with it, we almost always practice violence, on ourselves or those we love.
Asking where the violence all started (the boss? the boss’s husband?) isn’t really all that helpful, because we’ll never know.
So here is a personal practice that will feel like a drop in the ocean, but can actually lead to substantive change: Practice non-violence on a personal level, with every action and every thought and every breath. Notice your defensiveness, your sarcasm, your biting comments, your self hatred, your losing it with your kids, and pray, “Lord, have mercy.” Notice the violent ways you speak to yourself, in your mind where no one else can hear you. Notice how you’d almost never speak to anyone else that way. I love what comedian Pete Holmes does when he notices violent self-talk. He says, out loud, “I love you, Peter.”
What would happen if that became your practice? What would happen if, instead of engaging in the internal, made up dialogue, you whispered, “I love you, _________” (name of person with whom you are angry or frustrated)? I believe if we practice this long enough, it is possible for love to be our first response to violence, instead of more violence. This is, I believe, what Jesus was teaching when he smiled at the world and gave us the impossible command to love our enemies. He was giving us the most powerful weapon in the world, more powerful than any machine. He was giving us the keys to creating a world of peace, one radical thought at a time.
We need to notice our own subtle violence if we are going to change the obvious violence. Doing this will seem insignificant but will send invisible waves of mercy all across the world.
In it together, my friends.