Violence Diminishes Us

This is written on the wall of my office.

“Violence diminishes us.”

It is a hammer where a scalpel is required. Or a suture. Or a feather. It is almost never what is called for.

There is a pull to violence in us. Our egos offer this command on a regular basis: “This world is not as I wish it to be! I will make it conform! Thus!”

No matter if the part of the world that we wish to conform has its own priorities, or its own desires, or its own needs. No matter whether the part of the world is inside us, beside us, or completely outside our sphere of influence. The pull to violence gathers our power, sometimes in an instant.

A Step Sideways

I’m going to take a moment tell you about Eckhart Tolle.

If you are several years into the personal development path, you probably know Eckhart Tolle. And if you are not, you might only know him from the snide comments that are made about The Power of Now. I understand. The first time I tried to read Eckhart Tolle, I returned the book to the library after about 20 pages, during which I probably rolled my eyes 14 times.

The next time I tried to read Eckhart Tolle, about three years later (about six months ago), I got all the way through The Power of Now, and it was obvious. I’m not going to ask you to read The Power of Now. But I want you, if you’re still in the eye-rolling stage, to bear with me a minute while I talk about The Pain Body.

Tolle talks about this… thing that inhabits us and hijacks the system at moments of opportunity. It feeds on pain, he says, and guides our actions to maximize the pain. It makes us say things that will cause arguments, fights, and last-minute failures of things that were going just fine. Because it takes pleasure in our misery. It is built from our misery, our suffering, and the suffering of the beings around us.

“WHAT!?!” I said. And I sat back in my chair, and pondered these habits of mind, this samsara, this experience of compulsions that seem to run the body when we consciously can say, “This is not what I want.” I pondered for some time. The word gobsmacked might be appropriate at this point.

What if these are…

What if These are Real?

Another step, another quote, another field of human endeavour.

In my education classes, we studied George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory. (PCT) PCT was originally developed as a therapeutic approach, in which the constructs (internal world models) of the patient were interrogated and examined to help them come to some more helpful way of negotiating the world. Apparently he didn’t like being portrayed as a learning theorist, but there you are. Say something sufficiently intriguing about how people work, and everybody will want to claim you as one of theirs.

George Kelly talked about man as scientist, constantly testing and revising, bringing new experiences into the model and either accepting, rejecting, or modifying the model. He also talked about Cognitive Dissonance, and the ability that we have to maintain our models in the face of enormous amounts of evidence to the contrary. Someday I will write an entire post about George Kelly, Constructivism, and Education. But for today, I just want to give you this idea (and I wanted it to have some context.)

It goes something like this: A person’s construction of reality is a real phenomenon that must be explained, no matter how much it is at odds with reality. (1)

And this leads me to…

Stories have a real physical existence in the world, because they are stored in the neuron patterns of our minds (2) I have since discovered Richard Dawkins saying something comparable about memes. So, let us review.

Memes, stories, constructs all have real physical existence. They are patterns of the universe that exist inside our bodies and are also delocalized as they are shared among the minds of the people with whom we have contact.

Which is about where I was, (before the aside,) sitting back in my chair as if I had been hit over the head by the idea of The Pain Body.

It’s not about them.

We can talk about non-violence from a moral standpoint, or we can choose it from a completely selfish perspective. Because… We are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of our own violence. (3) When it lives in our heads as grudges, revenge fantasies, and impotent rage, it drives our bodies and we are the ones who have to live in these bodies filled with racing hormones, fight-or-flight responses, and images of violence that may not even have taken place. It undermines our ability to find or even conceive of peaceful solutions. Coming back to cognitive dissonance, it means that we reject peaceful solutions as impossible, even when they are right in front of us. We (4) respond to something as simple as people sitting on the ground with tear gas and water cannons. We assume violent intent (defiance) in the other without evidence. We respond to peace with violence because we have made ourselves violent by repeating the story about how violence is the only way.

This is why the personal work is so vital. To work towards peace, we have to believe in it… or at least we have to suspend our belief in violence. So all I ask of you right this minute is a voluntary suspension of disbelief. Just for a minute. What if… peace is possible?


1. If you really must have the reference, leave a comment, and I’ll get the book out of the library again. The quote comes from George Kelly’s A Theory of Personality.
2. As well as in the chemical traces of anxiety, pleasure, etc. in our bodies. I also worked with a nursing professor who was doing research in somatic memory.
3. Just for this moment, bring yourself into the position of the actor, rather than the acted upon. Nothing I say here should be taken in any way to diminish the impact of violence upon it’s victims. But we reason differently from those two sides, and this is an appeal for radical responsibility as an agent.
4. I mean in the collective, rather than the inclusive sense, here. Oh, look! Another post topic. Most of my footnotes are.