Sreejit’s Dungeon Prompt this week asked us to address these questions:
In many countries where guns are not legal the police also don’t carry guns themselves – only the military does. In America, because guns are so widespread, we couldn’t even conceptualize an unarmed police force. But now, with the full militarization of the police, do you think that it has gone too far? Do you feel scared when you see the cop strapping a gun while waiting for coffee in line next to you at the Starbucks? What is your relationship with the police and how do you think your race has colored that? Has race colored your perception of police brutality?
I have decided to address those questions and more. During the last few weeks, I have felt overwhelmed and disheartened by all of the violence occurring in the world. What keeps going through my mind is “Have we gone crazy?” I have heard the same sentiment from others.
On August 9, an unarmed teenager was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri and protest riots followed. It definitely seems like the frequency of police shooting unarmed people is increasing, but the problem is even bigger than that. News reporting, in many, if not all, cities in America, is filled with incidents of people shooting each other either accidentally or on purpose.
The problem of violence is worldwide, not just in America. In the last two weeks, the war between Israel and Hamas has escalated and an American journalist was beheaded by ISIS. ISIS is committing unspeakable atrocities all over Iraq and Syria.
To answer Sreejit’s questions first. I would love to live in a country where the police don’t need to carry guns. From what I’ve read, police who are on regular duty in England, India, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand and Fiji do not carry guns. In Norway police do not carry firearms but have them locked in their cars.
I don’t know when American police started carrying guns; they have certainly done it all of my life. But the increasing militarization of our police force is shocking for me to witness.
Would I feel afraid if I saw a policeman with a holstered gun standing in a line at Starbucks? If he was waiting for a latte, my unease would primarily be because I don’t like being in the presence of guns. If there was any other tension in the room, my fear would increase. I would be concerned that the conflict would escalate and I might get caught in cross fire. While in that situation, I would certainly experience fear, I don’t believe I would be as unsettled or fearful as I would be if I were African-American or Hispanic.
I believe that police brutality is almost always caused by fear and/or rage. I can’t imagine doing that job in today’s world without ending up hyper-vigilant, with fear or anger simmering inside. That combination is a recipe for disaster. Yes, police brutality exists, and seems to be increasing. And yes, we must do all we can do to solve the problem.
Police brutality is only one source of violence in today’s world. There are so many underlying issues that result in violence. The big ones that come to me in this moment are rage, fear, poverty, lack of education, lack of employment and/or a sense of entitlement.
Have we as humans gone so far into violence that there is no turning back? Have we indeed “gone crazy?” Are we going to continue on this path of self-destruction?
One of the things that upsets me the most are pictures of Americans carrying assault weapons on the street and into stores because they have “a right to bear arms.” To me this is truly “going crazy.” I feel such a sense of hopelessness when I acknowledge that part of America has come to this.
The problems are massive and it is overwhelming to even think about how to solve them. As individuals, there is no way that we can address them all, but each of us can do something that moves the world in the direction of ending the violence. For example, we can work with like-minded individuals on the underlying issues I mentioned above. While one person can make a significant difference, it is likely a group can accomplish even more.
The most important thing we as individuals can do, though, is to work on changing ourselves. In Legacy of the Heart, Wayne Muller encouraged us to see judging ourselves and others as a way we add violence to the world:
How may we cultivate such nonviolence in our own hearts? We may begin by recognizing the harm that all judgment creates in our hearts and spirits. Whether we are hurtful toward ourselves or others, the residue of that violence lingers in our body and heart like a virus, choking our healing and imprisoning our spirit.
…. dedicate ourselves to watching how many times we judge, criticize, or belittle our feelings or actions. Each time you notice that you are critical or judgmental in some way, consciously remake the vow not to use violence in any form. Watch how many times and in how many ways we bring harm to ourselves and our feelings.
In stopping judgment of others Muller says:
Mercy is one practice capable of effecting real change in a violent world. The gentle movements of truth and healing blossom only in the hearts of women and men dedicated to love, mutual respect, and non violence. Saint Francis, who dedicated his life to peace, taught his followers to attend to the quality of peace in their own lives as they worked for the healing of others. “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart,” he said.
One of the self-care contracts that clients and therapists in my therapy community strive to live by is: “I will not hurt myself or others, either accidentally or on purpose. I will stay safe and honor the safety of others.” This contract addresses hurting ourselves or others physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally or in any other realm. One way we can work on eliminating violence in the world is to say “I will not hurt myself or others. I will not add violence to this world.” every time we judge ourselves or others in our thoughts, words, or deeds. We may need to remake this contract hundreds of times a day at first, but if we stick with it we will change.
Many years ago, there was a period during which there was a lot of scarcity thinking in my groups. It most often took the form of “There won’t be enough time for me to do my work tonight.” People would come in with that belief, and instead of working first, they would make their mistaken belief a reality. The therapists created a process where when anyone felt scarcity energy (i.e. “not enough” in some form) present in the room, they would ring a bell. At that point, everyone in the room would stop what they were doing and would silently self-reflect to see how they were contributing to scarcity in that moment. If they were, they looked at what they could do to change their thoughts or behavior. That process really made a difference in the group. It might be interesting to do something similar within ourselves, at least metaphorically, when we are violent in our thoughts, words or deeds.
Stopping our judgmental thoughts does not mean that we should stuff our anger, fear and sadness. Repressing those feelings can cause them to build up to the point that they eventually explode like a volcano. When that happens, the feelings often come out sideways and are dumped onto someone who had nothing to do with the situation that originally triggered them. Repressed feelings are also toxic, and if we don’t find a way to release them they are likely to make us depressed or physically sick.
So we need to let the feelings go in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves, others or the environment. Doing the affirmation process I described above will help. So will finding active ways of solving any problem that exists. But when the feelings are escalated, we may need to find other ways to release them. We can journal; write long lists of all of the things we are angry, sad or scared about (i.e. I am mad that…… I am sad that………….I am scared that……….); write an angry letter ( we call it a poison pen letter) and then destroy it; twist a towel and scream in our heads; or pick a pillow to be the person we are angry with and say everything that we would like to say but know we shouldn’t. It is important that these techniques be done with the purpose of releasing the feelings, not of building them. There are many other forms of feeling work but these are some beginning ones. If our wounds are deep then working with a therapist can be invaluable.
When we are feeling overwhelmed by the violence in the world, it can help to talk with family, friends, colleagues, therapists and others in our support systems. It is important that we pick people who will lift us up rather than bring us down. In this current world crisis, I have talked with friends in Seattle and also with blogging friends. I talk with my son, my ex-husband, and my co-therapists.
A few days ago, I called my daughter in India. I know she has minimal access to media there, so she often doesn’t know much about current world events. I spent a lot of the phone call telling her all of the horrible things that have been happening. I felt better afterwards but believed I had gone too far. I wrote and apologized for my call being focused so much on bad news. She responded, “No you didn’t [talk too long about negative things], you just needed to get it off your chest, and I suppose I needed a reality check!” I think both of her comments were true.
I’ve seen many bloggers dealing with their feelings and thoughts in their blog posts. It has been helpful to me to read those posts. I am very grateful to Sreejit for offering this particular Dungeon Prompt. It has giving me and others the opportunity to explore and share what is happening inside of us amidst all this turmoil. I hope you have found something I have said in this post to be helpful.
Last night when I looked at the Reader prior to going to bed, and I saw a video by Jackie Evancho posted on Veraiconica’s blog. I watch for synchronicities in my life, and this felt like one of them, so I’m going use that video as part of my ending for this post.
And as a final ending, a Sanskrit prayer for peace:
Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings in the world be happy
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Peace, Peace, Peace