Is Violence a Call to Love?

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As we read and see reports of events unfolding in our world today, it is easy to go into separation, thoughts of “us” and “them.” It is easy to think that there are different types of people in the world and that those attacking us are somehow very different from us. In my travels around the world over the years, one of the most striking observations is how similar we all are as human beings.

While we have varying cultures that inevitably lead to differences in values, our primary values are very similar. No matter where I’ve gone or whom I’ve met, humans all have love as their primary need. Each one wants to be loved, respected, and honored for who they are.

When we see individuals or groups of individuals act out and commit horrendous acts it is much easier to see them as different from ourselves, and perhaps even to move into hatred, fear, or to support acts of vengeance.

One of the greatest personal examples I have of feeling and believing in separation, and regarding a particular group as ones I should fear, is when I helped facilitate a spiritual workshop in Lovelock Prison in Nevada some years ago. When I signed up to be part of the project I was very optimistic, idealistic even, and did not think of the inmates as so different from me. I just thought of them as people who had gotten off track.

But then we began to sign waivers and get many cautions from prison officials about things we could not do inside the prison, and repeated warnings that what works outside the prison walls would not work within them. I began to question my decision to be part of the workshop in the prison. Particularly, I became concerned that my wife at the time was also going into this male prison environment to participate.

However, within minutes of being with the inmates, all of the fears and perceptions of great differences ceded. Being in the presence of the inmates, we felt their hearts, their pain, and their aspirations, all very similar to what we had experienced offering the workshop to people in the world outside the prison. The workshop involved a lot of hugging and physical affection, which we were warned would not be a good idea in the prison. Despite that, we conducted the workshop the same as we would in a setting outside of a prison, and with the same results.

In hindsight, I felt silly to have bought into separation and into believing that somehow I would discover a different type of human being inside the prison walls. I did not. While many of the inmates had committed serious crimes and caused hurt to many, they were fundamentally the same as anyone I knew on the outside. And the greatest similarity is in how we each respond to love and compassion. At our core, we all want to give and receive love.

The lesson is that love is always what is being called for. And ours is to discern how and where we can love more. This solution or conclusions do not excuse horrendous acts committed by anyone; they merely remind us what is ours to do in response to them. We have seen over and over the results of meeting violence with violence, and it has only led to more violence. We have never fully seen the power of a world responding to all acts with love and compassion, a world that seeks out the opportunities to love more rather than the opportunities to blame or retaliate.

Where is there an opportunity for us as a global community to love more? Where could we be doing more to remedy injustices? Where are people in great need, while we sit in relative comfort? Where are the opportunities to foster greater human dignity? Finding the answers to these questions and responding accordingly with loving, compassionate action is our best hope for creating a world free of violence. We can do this!

Enjoy the journey.

4 Comments

  1. Donna Mosher says:

    When we have a chance to truly UNDERSTAND another, we cannot help but love them.
    And when you love them, it is harder to judge them.

    I was an exchange student to South Africa before many in the US even knew where it was. The country was still deeply enmeshed in apartheid. I gained a unique perspective – very different from what soon would fill the news. I came home with a deep understanding of the challenges facing those people and a heartfelt love for them – white, black, and “coloured.” (They truly were a multicultural population)

    AFS gave me that incredible experience. Their motto at the time still warms my spirit:

    “Walk together, talk together, O ye peoples of the earth. Then and only then shall ye have peace.”

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