We all learn about the great nonviolent movements of historic figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. How these movements changed history and persevered amidst opposition is eye opening. The importance of these movements lies within the radical and defining changes they brought about in society. Through nonviolent tactics both leaders produced prolific and resounding revolutions that we still refer to today. However, despite being introduced to these movements early on we refuse to accept these teachings, no matter how peaceful and gentle we claim to be.
I wrote a paper on Martin Luther King Jr. when I was entering high school. It is difficult to learn about the history of America without learning about slavery. It is hard not to see the effects Mahatma Gandhi had on the history of India and Great Britain. The heights Gandhi’s activities reached are unparalleled and were noticed worldwide, but then what? We watch movies, read books, dwell on quotes, and praise these men, but this is all history; what does it matter now?
Learning about these movements teaches us how history was formed,
how revolutions were created without weapons, and the force of the multitude. However there are some lessons that are not taught and less spoken of, lessons that reach far beyond history. These lessons include how one man can change the world for millions, how a single belief can proliferate, and most importantly, the root of non-violence.
The root of nonviolence lies within us. Most of us deny living violent lives; we don’t expend force upon anyone, we do not aggressively hit others, nor do we act out in ferocious behaviors. Although aggression, ferociousness, and force are very broad terms they all contain a seed of violence. The seed of violence is planted within us at a very early age and is given adequate nourishment to grow into very bushy trees.
Each derogatory remark, criticism, and blame we place upon ourselves is a form of violence. Starting in our early school years to when we start mimicking media: trying to get that perfect figure, getting that perfect grade, trying to perform that flawless routine; we begin pushing ourselves, slapping ourselves, and smothering ourselves. Every time I fell in public I would call myself names and think I deserved punishment despite the fact that the fall was not really my fault.
Just as the saying goes ‘we are our company,’ we project onto others what we think and do to ourselves. If our minds are negative, it only follows that we will become accustomed to repeating that negativity. When we are in school most of us compare ourselves with others, and when this comparison doesn’t meet our expectation we tend to blame and find inexcusable fault with ourselves.
This is where violence begins. When our minds become agitated and upset we inflict pain and misery upon ourselves. This pain can only be contained for a short period of time before we start projecting our internal state onto others. When we lash out at others or share an insult with another what is it but a violent act? Most of us equate violence with physical acts of hate, but words can hurt far more than knives. If we know how to hate, punish, and sabotage ourselves it follows we will know how to do the same to others.
Violence is a societal phenomenon. Violence is taught to us in schools, through the media, and via fraternities. When I was I high school, college, and post grad school I used to pull all-nighters and stayed awake all day, all night, and all day again for the sake of a grade, scholastic learning, or official work; what is this if not violence to our bodies? My average day is 13 hours and when I run above 15 hours I start feeling achy and groggy. When I was in school I sat like a zombie if front of the computer until that 2nd kick came in at 21 hours. It is not the natural state of the body to stay awake for this long, but we feel the need to in order to feel good about ourselves, meet the deadline, or compete with others.
Through competition and comparisons, we are actually taught to commit heinous acts against ourselves, and to propel and amplify the hatred by putting ourselves down, criticizing ourselves, and doubting ourselves. Violence, like other learned phenomenon is only as effective as the energy you put into it. So although we are given the tools for violence at an early age, it is our continuous practice and involvement in the behavior that labels us violent creatures.
Unfortunately, we are violent beings; most of us won’t admit to it, but the torture we put ourselves through proves otherwise. Our internal monologue creates changes within our bodies and because our minds are so susceptible to subliminal messages and other forms of convincing propaganda our internal monologue creates damaging changes such as the rate of digestion, tense muscles within our body, or secretion of abnormal hormones.
The effects of violence are so pervasive so why not cut down on the violence and start leading more peaceful lives? We watch the news and condemn the violence that we see around the world, but we neglect to see and acknowledge the violence within us. If we are nicer to ourselves, the atmosphere of our minds will be reflected in our surroundings.