Poet Robert Peake asks us to look at war, nihilism and love to start the healing.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” -Jiddu Krishnamurti
To talk about healing violence in society, we must talk about war. Because we spend our budget on wars instead of teachers. Then troubled kids go undetected and un-helped. The horrors of violence return to us in unexpected ways. We call them “senseless”, and they feel that way. Yet halfway around the world, a mother is holding the body of her child after a drone attack, and using–in her own language–the same word: “senseless.”
What seems senseless may not be without cause. Which means there may even be a cure.
To talk about healing, we must reach beyond conventional definitions of mental health. Because according to those definitions, the shooter in Norway last year is fit to stand trial as sane. And while we can assess mental health by certain psychiatric standards, we can not asses a human being for their likelihood to commit evil acts. In fact, I think somewhere in all of us that very frightening potential exists as part of the human condition.
To stop the violence, we must stop asking, “How can we prevent people with the potential to do evil from accessing weapons?” and start asking, “Why do we think we all need these weapons in the first place?”
The US actually has a government-sponsored program to assess mental health before issuing people guns. It is administered when they enlist in the military. But since the advent of modern war journalism in Vietnam, right through to the two wars that the US is fighting now, we have been shocked by the reports of evil acts perpetrated by these pre-screened young men, including the mass killing of unarmed civilians.
Young men. It is always young men. Describing myself as a teenager, I use many of the same words that acquaintances used to describe young shooters–bright, oddball, serious, introspective, and definitely a loner. I credit astute teachers around me in my teenage years (including my parents) for helping me to channel my thoughts and emotions constructively to stay out of mischief. Half-jokingly, I sometimes say that they kept me from becoming “a Bond villain.”
But only half. Because sane or crazy, I knew they cared. I knew my actions in the world had consequences for people that I loved and who loved me. I engaged my over-active mind with resources they brought to me–philosophy, history, spirituality, and literature–that helped me to feel less alone in my struggles to understand what being here is all about.
Intellectually, there is nothing more dangerous than nihilism. Emotionally, there is nothing more dangerous than to feel that no one cares.
Because then, anything is possible, in the whole range of human acts.
We are greatly removed from the effects of the wars we prosecute. We are then tempted into nihilism and despair when seemingly random violence comes our way. On the day of the shooting, my Facebook friends posted updates suggesting that we hug someone close to us. Parents that evening squeezed their children tighter than ever when they picked them up safe and sound from school.
To talk about healing, we must talk about love. We must confront what is not love. Violence begets violence, and despair begets despair. But we also never know how much that reaching out to a shy, angry young man with a simple kindness might actually do.
It takes courage to keep caring after a tragedy. It takes courage lay down our weapons and stop the violence, big and small. Such acts may not count as heroism in any headline. Yet they just might be the cure for our collective sickness, the only real way to heal.
photo: puuikibeach / flickr