Let’s end violence now

While listening recently to a recorded course called Philosophy, Religion and the Meaning of Life (yes, that’s a real title—you can check it out at The Teaching Company), I heard an amazing quote from Simone Weil: “To define force: it is that X that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing.” I literally stopped in my tracks (I was on an exercise walk at the time). Never before had I heard captured the essence of violence.

In a flash I felt/saw that the root of all violence, including that which we direct at ourselves, is our making people into things. Wars, rape, torture, beatings of all sorts, abuse in its multiple forms all begin when we take away humanity and replace it with thingness.

Please stop for a moment just now and notice if you are treating yourself like a thing. Perhaps you are driving yourself for results or ignoring the longings of your heart or simply making your accomplishments more important/central than yourself.

I’ve taken up his practice myself and find it extraordinarily relieving when I remember to tune into myself and the people around me as if we were precious humans of unfathomable beauty and mystery. The world gets tremendously spacious at that moment and simultaneously very intimate. Time stretches out and there is room for everyone and everything.

I began to see this process of making people into things happening everywhere. In my coaching with individuals and teams I observed how frequently people were treated/spoken about as if they were objects. Once we do that it’s easy to justify actions that we take that hurt them or diminish possibilities for them. Have you seen this yourself?

The workplace becomes a desert of endless slogging towards an ever-receding mirage of profitability/success as soon as we make people into objects. Meaning dies right then and gets replaced by winning or money or approval. How long can we live in this desert?

Very few people consciously set out to do violence at work or in their families or with their friends. And yet we do it. We then must live with the consequences. Look around—how many of us are inhabiting our life and our bodies? How many of us are bouncing around like steel balls in a pinball machine?

You can see that I am captivated by this distinction. I’ve given up trying to make myself do things. I’m learning to trust something much bigger than my own often fearful planning. If I’m not a thing then it could well be that there is a deeper intelligence operating in my life than that which occurs in my thinking.

Love and connection are infinitely richer as soon as I remember the humanity of the person cutting me off in traffic or sitting next to me on a plane or taking my coffee order at the shop. What’s my rush? What am I doing that is so important that I can justify overlooking the human being right in front of me? These are questions I’m using these days to keep me awake.

Life is not a desert then but a green lush expanse of nearly unbearable beauty.

At this moment none of us can stop all wars. But each of us can make a vow to end violence.

I’m working on this for myself and invite all of you take it up with me.