What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments,
but what is woven into the lives of others.
The pace of life has become faster and more frantic in recent years. Many people leave little time for thoughtful reflection or just sitting still. If you are older, you might remember when life was simpler and less hectic. If you are younger, you might have heard about more peaceful times from your relatives. How did we get from living our lives in relative peace to being obsessed with anger and its expression in violence?
Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? I have long considered a possible connection between these events and their relationship to fear and violence. Let’s take a closer look.
If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) if you think you can overcome it or avoiding it (flight) if it seems more powerful than you are. Immediate fear and these responses to it follow a direct and immediate threat of attack such as by a wild animal or person. You don’t have time to think about it but automatically react almost immediately.
Anxiety is related to fear. The feared object might not be immediately present, but you can worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. You become anxious about your own welfare or that of your family. You might also fret about the possible behavior of other people or the course taken by the society in which you live.
If you are unable to find a way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside you and possibly remain unknown to others. You might find someone whom you trust with your concerns and share them or act on your anxiety by lashing out. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point at which they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people will turn to violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear.
The result can be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if we see others as responsible for our predicament. If we could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in our world might not seem quite so senseless. The violence makes sense to people feeling overwhelmed by life burdens. Most people tend to react emotionally to such situations without giving their response much thought.
If you could step back from your emotions, you might see more constructive possibilities and be able to choose one of them. Once you are overwhelmed, it might be too late to step back. You could make a practice of learning to step back from your daily routine even when you are not under pressure. Then you will have a better idea how to handle stressful life events when they arise.
Life Lab Lessons
- Practice setting aside peaceful moments or longer periods of time.
- Without blaming anyone, consider how you arrived in this situation.
- If you have been here before, what worked to get you back on track?
- If you have no idea what to do, find someone you can trust with your challenge.
- Once the crisis is resolved, write about what you did to handle it.
(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, From Rage and Violence to Peace and Harmony.)