Feature Article - 1st Quarter, 1998
ON BEING A PERSON IN A VIOLENT WORLD
By: Dr. Stuart Twemlow (Guest Author & IKKF Member)
Dr. Twemlow relates a recent experience: Recently my wife took our daughter to a showing of the movie, "Batman Returns". In one memorable scene, a woman is pushed out of a skyscraper and falls violently to her death. In the theater, a boy who appeared to be about age 11 or 12 created a disturbance by jumping up and down on his seat excitedly, shouting, "Oh great, oh great, oh great!!! He pushed her out the window and he didnŐt even care!!!"
J. R. Meloy, a sophisticated clinician and writer on violence, has addressed such reactions and related problems in his book, Violent Attachments, where he also points out, "...violence can numb the senses and foster a curious yet detached attention to only the statistics. We minimize or deny the relationships that exist between aggressor and the victim. The numbers dampen our wish for insight and our thoughts resist and attempt to comprehend the meaning of such inexplicable, yet troublesome, behavior."
As Meloy and many others point out, most violence in human beings is perpetrated between people who know each other and are attached to each other in some way. It is understanding the nature of this attachment between victim and attacker that may help us answer the question of how one retains some peace and equanimity, some center, in a violent world.
In my School of Martial and Meditative Arts, in Topeka, more than 200 students see, each day, a quotation adapted from the 2000-year-old, Art of War by Sun Tsu. It reads:
- If you know your techniques, you will win sometimes and lose sometimes.
- If you know your enemy, you will win most of the time.
- If you know yourself, there is not enemy.
We adopted as the logo for our school, the statement, "there is no enemy." Each candidate for the black belt must study and review this statement both as a fact and as a koan, and demonstrate an in-depth and balanced grasp of its meaning and intent.
I grew up in a peaceful country, New Zealand, whose government was devised as an ideal social experiment. I traveled from there out into a world where disruption, violence and conflict pervades many cultures. After more than 30 years of martial and meditative arts practice and teaching, travel to remote parts of the world (including countries at civil war), work in developing countries, and exploration of the Amazon rain forests and visits with their peoples. I have reached a transpersonal insight that I consider central: Living with peace and equanimity requires an attitude of compassionate awareness.
An attitude of compassionate awareness involves the following: a sense of human relationship to all sentient beings, a caring for the condition of plants, animals and the state of the earth, a sense of duty or a feeling of responsibility for these things and a feeling of gratefulness for being part of the whole intricate puzzle. Awareness involves knowing - not merely accumulating facts, but understanding and seeing connections, knowing one's world and knowing one's self as a microcosm of that world.
Some members of my own profession believe that war is inevitable, if not necessary, for the containment of innate projections of human destructiveness. Popular as this view is I am of a different opinion. In my view, human acts of destructiveness and violence are the angry response of the individual to a sense of not being heard, understood or cared about. If this is true, then increased awareness would be able to modify many forms of violence, perhaps even those arising from brain disorders where a deep feeling of being damaged, or not whole, is being communicated.
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Anomie, viz. "without a name," in my opinion, is one of the most fundamental social causes of a violent society. Lack of caring for others and feeling not connected to, or not sharing group goals is prevalent today, perhaps even more so among, the younger generation. Not feeling a common consciousness, or a sense of spirituality, accelerates the fragmentation that is pervasive in our society. To feel that one is a person in a healthy group, the group must tolerate differences and yet at the same time create its own coherent "personality," Freud, in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, wrote about large groups, using as examples religious institutions and armies. He points out that large groups function to subjugate the personality of the individual to the ideals of the group and the individual. In some groups, one may be asked to subvert his/her own ideas and principles to those of the leader. The group that develops such a bond can then become either and agent of social change, or of horrifying totalitarianism, as exemplified in W.W. II. More recently the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, represented an example of how a cult can "decerebrate" normal individuals when the leader manages to harness the power and purpose of the group to his own idiosyncratic and pathological ends. To be "successful," a cult leader must promise:
- Answers that help people overcome their fears and provide for their needs.
- That these answers would require little else other than following the leader's instruction, i.e., no personal responsibility is required.
- That there is a body of knowledge accessible only to him/her, and that only she/he has the special, usually mystical, skills necessary to understand and transmit that knowledge.
- That following the leader will lead to a special personal and social transformation, i.e., the past sins of the individuals would be erased or removed if the leader is followed.
- There is a sense of specialness within the group, as if the group has a mission to convert the masses - a purpose beyond that of the individual, thus appealing to the individual's grandiosity.
By comparison, from a transpersonal perspective, a healthy, successful working group would have:
- A psychologically healthy leader whose goals embody compassionate awareness,with a concern for the welfare of the group - sometimes even greater than his/her own welfare.
- A leader who is not abusing power and is aware of the role, function and impact of the group on the planet as a whole, with due regard for the rights of all living things (a planetary rather than narrow nationalistic view) and with an insight that the good of the group depends on cooperation and collaboration with other groups, not conflict or competition with them.
- A leader who realizes his or her own weaknesses and works to mitigate them for the good of the group.
- A leader with the capacity to facilitate the growth of individual members, for their own and the group's benefit, and to help the group tolerate differences and diversity.
Thus, in a healthy working group, and individual remains an individual and part of a group. In a healthy group, the group's ego-ideal does not submerge the individual's, nor replace it with the leader's ego-ideal. These outcomes are highly dependent, in my view, on the personality of the leader, whose world view influences all aspects of how the group functions.
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People may take unnecessary risks and place themselves in danger. In my clinical work with victims and perpetrators of violence, and in the training of women in self-defense, I am made aware constantly of the near-psychotic intensity of the denial of violence - a denial far exceeding even that connected to sexual feelings. Part of this is due to the fact that violence is more easily depersonalized. We may be desensitized by the constant barrage of the televised depictions of torture, sadism, blood, organs, and screaming, to the extent that it becomes part of our daily experience. Although the media can certainly be indicted as an agent of this denial, our response is, nevertheless, a matter of personal awareness. Of course, the socially approved institutionalization of violence, as in warfare, also contributes to this dehumanizing desensitization.
I once treated a young Vietnam veteran whose task while in Saigon was to dig up grave yards of Vietnamese to bury American trash. Another "Special Forces" Vietnam War patient had been trained to kill without thinking or feeling. During periods of boredom he would go on missions and, by choice, practiced cruelties and torture. In both cases, these young men were taught to treat other human beings as nonhuman trash.
Awareness of our own potential for violence towards others requires a realization that inside each of us is not only a dove, but a devil as well. It is a sobering thought to consider the possibility that each of us is potentially a serial killer, a narcissistic tyrant, or an agent of hatred and bigotry. Should we deny this, we risk becoming agents of such horrible acts, or experiencing their expression in psychiatric illness.
Violence in intimate relationships or violence in people who do know each other, has a psychological intensity that is hard to appreciate if one has not experienced it. In cases where the victim submits to the attacker, and the attacker dominates the victim, there can be a spiral through denial and resignation toward surrender. The helpless victim in the act of surrendering stimulates fantasies of power in the attacker, thus promoting further acts of violence (Twemlow, 1993). The victim's mental response creates a psychophysiology that makes escape or counterattack very difficult. Panic can lead to arrest of thinking, which leads to giving-up, and feeling "given-up-on". When the mind does not work well, options for escape may not be recognized, and the individual may simply wait for death. The alternative to victim-attacker submission is self-confidence created by knowledge. In our society it is essential that the individual gain the self-confidence that results from learning to defend oneself. I strongly recommend training in these areas, such as in certain contact sports, the martial arts, or at least in responsible and intensive self-defense seminars.
In the Bible, Jesus says, "You have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" (NRSV). This is sometimes interpreted as an instruction to submit and even invite attack, a form of moral suicide, a feeble surrender to aggression. There is strong evidence, however, from Jesus' actions, both at the time of his own indictment by Pontius Pilot, and by his actions in the market place with merchants and usurers, that he does not turn the other cheek in the sense of surrender to evil actions. Instead his teachings can be seen as an instruction for a form of nonviolent resistance, as that taught by other great social activists including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Caesar Chavez. If one does not empower the attacker with one's own projections and fantasies, the attack may fall away; by contrast hatred begets hatred.
In one of the martial arts, Jujitsu, one learns a basic principle: "no enemy, no resistance, no injury." A martial artist is always taught to give way to an attacker, to allow the energy of the attacker to dissipate itself by nonresistance wherever possible, to deflect actions with words. A counterattack is to be used as a last resort - not as an idealized first response as seen, for example, in the Rambo film series. Yet, Rambo himself seemed to realize his impotence, both physically and mentally. In most of those films when there is nothing left for him to destroy, he usually bursts into tears. Fear and panic creates a mindlessness, and mindlessness produces reactivity, not proactivity. The differences are:
Fear - Panic - Mindlessness (Reactivity), OR
Fear - Awareness of Danger - Planned response (Proactivity)
Reactivity is often impulsive and shows poor judgment: proactivity is the mind of the confident individual who neither resists nor crumbles before violence. In the proactive approach to the situation, fear is present without panic, and the individual thinks and acts with a lucid mind.
In addition to a conceptual and attitudinal shift in perspective, the person desiring a proactive life in a violent world may have to change him/herself. Perhaps the following personal affirmation, appropriate in a group setting, can serve as one small contribution to the process of change. It is modified from a contribution by Roger Walsh, distributed at "The Heart of Healing: A Conference on Transpersonal Psychology," sponsored by the Menninger Foundation, March 12-14, 1993.
A Meditation on Personal Change to Overcome Hatred and Bigotry.
- Take three slow, deep breaths.
- What is the contribution you've made to the world of which you are most proud?
- What contributions do you want to make to the world?
- To make these contributions to the world, what strengths and capacities would you have to recognize in yourself?
- To make these contributions to the world, what would you have to stop pretending not to know?
- To make these contributions to the world, what would you have to stop pretending not to be able to do?
- To make these contributions, what beliefs would it be helpful to change in yourself?
- To make these contributions, what will you have to recognize is really important to you?
- What could you do right now to begin making this contribution to the world? Visualize a person whom you believe is suffering from hating others. See their fear and loneliness, surround then with radiant, cool whit light until they relax and smile.
- Take a moment to recognize and appreciate the depth of your commitment to service and realize that you've just committed yourself to helping everyone in the room.
- Take a moment to recognize and appreciate the depth of commitment of everyone else in the room and that everyone has just committed themselves to helping you.
- Look around at these people.
- Acknowledge each person's contribution.
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The above article was provided by Dr. Stuart Twemlow, M.D., a psychiatrist who teaches at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. It was published in the Winter 1994 issue of the ATP (The Association for Transpersonal Psychology) Newsletter. Dr. Twemlow is also a practicing martial artist and member of the IKKF. He and his son operate a traditional Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo Dojo in Topeka, Kansas.
NOTE: Mrs. H. invites your comments on Dr. Twemlow's article. You can send them via Email. The idea is to establish a "IKKF Discussion Group" via Email. In future updates to the Web Page we intent to set up a Discussion Group Bulletin Board.