Yesterday, a good friend found out they had lost a friend of theirs to brutal violence.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about my own experiences with violence, and the experiences of people I have known, many of whom I have loved – all having suffered violence, some also inflicting violence on themselves and/or others.
Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.
I am too tired to say very much that is coherent about those personal experiences, or the broader problems they are representative of.
At the moment, all I can really think of is how desperately I wish I could sleep, and about Fred Rogers, when he talked to Congress in defense of funding PBS, and quoting the lyrics of one of the songs, I think, from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, about being mad, and how when you are thinking about doing something wrong, you can change your mind, and do something else instead. “What do you do with the mad that you feel?…It’s great to be able to stop, when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead… ‘I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop, anytime. And what a good feeling to feel like this.'” And how much I wish more people learned that lesson early on in life, so fewer people would externalize their pain by inflicting pain on other living beings.
And about how just because someone did not learn how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way in childhood does not mean they cannot learn, however much violence they may have suffered, or done, however old they may be.
And about how we all experience difficulties, and how exponentially more difficult they become to handle as they pile on. How unfortunately easily the human mind can be, and often is, overwhelmed – and how deeply the human spirit can be wounded, and how difficult it is for the social animals we are to heal without the support of other people.
If Mr. Rogers’ words don’t speak to you, for whatever reason, or if they do and you are so inclined to listen to someone else speak (with the warning that this speaker is explicit about his own experiences of being abused as a child as well as having engaged in violence toward others as he grew older), maybe Sammy Rangel’s words will resonate with you. He is a man who lived both sides of violence, suffering it being inflicted on him, and causing others to suffer by inflicting it on them. He has changed. He is no longer a person who engages in violence. He has started an organization called the Forgiveness Project.
Not unlike Christopher Piccolini, who used to be a part of a violent hate group, and who now helps other people leave such organizations. I have watched several of his talks, and he does discuss violence in some detail, at times more explicitly than others, and at the moment I do not have the wherewithal to watch again, but in any case, again, please only watch if you feel able to hear violence discussed in some degree of detail.
Eve Ensler also suffered a great deal of violence in her home as a child, and while her experience was not one in which she also engaged in violence, that I am aware of, she, too, grew up to work to help other people who suffer from violence. As with the above talks, there is explicit reference to violence, including sexual violence, so again, please, if that is something you feel unable to engage with in the moment, don’t watch.
To my knowledge, Scilla Elworthy did not suffer violence in her childhood, but she did grow up to be a person who has spent her life working for peace. Her talk (aside from its praise of Aung San Suu Kyi, who at the time was known primarily as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has since become the head of a government whose army is engaging in a genocide, a saddening, unfortunate change in perspective on who that particular person is) is wonderful in that she addresses a question of, as she phrases it, how to deal with a bully without becoming a thug. As with all of the non-Mr.-Rogers talks, there is some discussion of violence, and no reason anyone who does not feel able to handle the material at this time to engage with it if that is the choice you wish to make. (Also, on the TED site, the talks they have posted typically have transcripts available, if perhaps you find it easier to read such material than to listen to it discussed.)
I wish everyone the strength and support to handle difficulties, however great or small, and the sense of self-worth to ask for help from those who are able/qualified to do so; whether you need help because of being hurt, so that you can be helped to find a way to safety; or you need help because you are thinking about hurting someone (whether yourself or someone else), so you can find your way to decide not to do it, and do something else instead.
I am not a person qualified to provide that kind of help by a long mile, but there are resources available which are operated by people who are. An internet search can help you to find a helpline, warmline, hotline, support group, mental health care provider, or whatever other form of help might be appropriate to whatever your particular circumstances are.
The only other thing I can really say is please remember how precious life is – not just your own, but everyone’s.
Life is precious, and fragile, and uncertain.
Please treat it like it is.