“Please stop fighting,” a little boy shouts at his parents on a sunny terrace. “Please stop fighting,” said our Dutch Prime Minister, so that we can bring home the bodies from flight MH17. “Please stop fighting,” the demonstrators and commentators say, be it in Israel, in Palestine, in Syria, or Iraq. There have been times this summer that watching the news became almost unbearable.
But most unbearable of all, I hear the ‘please stop fighting’ in my own head, as time and again I say things I shouldn’t say, and act in ways that run contrary to my intentions. Failing to keep control of an inner angry bitch, and seeing the hurt on the faces of people I love. Summer brings sunshine, relaxation, but also stress and the pressure for things to go right. And when they don’t….
I was once taught that the root of the word aggression is ‘aggredi’, from the Latin ‘aggredior’ which means to advance or approach. Each party, however aggressive or violent, believes in their heart of hearts that they are ‘moving forward’ their argument, or their right.
The more ‘right'(eous) we feel, the more we end up having tunnel vision, as gradually we filter out any opposition to our own view. That way we can advance our position ruthlessly, without distraction, until we win. But history shows us that in the long run nobody wins. And a lot of people get hurt.
Seeing the big power blocks in the world once more limber up and prepare for yet another face off, I feel powerless. Yes, I can protest, I can write letters, I can perhaps even enlist and add my own ‘aggredi’ energy to the side that I feel is morally right. But how to determine that in a world full of ‘he hit me back first’ conflicts. The only way conflicts can end, is if someone stops ‘hitting back’. In a recent debate someone suggested that this should be the party who has the power. But in a conflict, everyone feels the victim, even the aggressor. Even I, when I stand and yell, and demand that I am treated better by those that love me.
Or I can stop watching the news, reading the papers, and take a long walk in the woods and enjoy the life that IS, now. And while there is something to be said for that, the occupation of my country and the rest of Europe would not have ended if men and women had stopped caring and walked away. Turning a blind eye to aggression and pretending it isn’t happening is just another form of aggression.
So what can we do, as individuals, to change the current waves of violence sweeping our world?
Change the world, start with myself
I believe that all I can do is to take responsibility for how I express myself whenever I feel the need to express my ‘right‘(eousness). Whenever I am about to be kidnapped by my own neediness, fear, disappointment, or hurt. I can choose to breathe in and out, and place it in a wider context. I can choose not to go down the road of tunnel vision, dividing the world into you said and I said. I can choose to hold my peace until the hot currents of passion have once again settled and the mist clears. And then, if necessary, and only then, can I choose to speak my truth, if, in the clear light of day, it still holds to be a truth.
I used to think that it was important to say what you think, to state how you feel, to express what you need. And I still do. But after this hot and emotionally passionate summer I want to add patience, and disengagement, and quiet review to the mix. Mastering emotions and thoughts doesn’t mean ignoring them or pushing them away. But it does mean developing the discipline to ‘dis-identify’ from them, to explore their origins from a more neutral, witnessing place. To explore if pointing a verbal gun is really the only way to advance your position. That’s my pledge for the autumn. And that’s where I can channel my distress at a world that seems overheated and mad.
I can’t curb the violence in the world, but I can curb the violence in myself. As can you. If you too recognise that each one of us contributes to the mood of aggression sweeping about. I need to believe that a moment of reflection and compassion can heal more than a thousand rockets or bullets ever can.