My question is this: why, oh why, do humans, century after century, continue their violence, slaughter, torture, neglect, cruelty, and prejudice? Black Lives Matter forces us to face racism rooted deeply in society with its brutality and hatred. And, we have discord and fighting in so many areas of our world. What allows this never-ending cruelty to stay fueled in humanity?
How can false prophets like Hitler be victorious over herds who commit atrocities against children, families, animals and the earth? How could the genocide in Rwanda happen? And still, we see anger everywhere.
What is it that enables one person to hurt another? David L. Smith, in Less Than Human writes “Thinking sets the agenda for action, and thinking of humans as less than human paves the way for atrocity.”
Aliza Luft, UCLA genocide researcher believes that people seek belonging to groups, so they obey dominate forces, thinking it protects them.
Dr. Edith Eger who entered Auschwitz at the age of 16, in 1944 (not that long ago) writes, “I try to blank out the horrors. The day SS officers tie a boy to a tree and use his limbs for target practice. The day a woman goes into labor and they tie her legs together. I have never seen such agony.” It’s unfathomable that people can numb out to the point of seeing another life (animal or human) as an object or “the other,” and do such malicious acts.
Every act of rage and prejudice is a problem. So, what can change constant historical violence and judgment? How can these behaviors change once and for all?
I believe each of us has a responsibility to look at our own impulses. Have we stopped shunning, rejecting, and attacking? Are we telling the truth in a respectful and non-blaming way? We’ve all been conditioned, and developed behaviors that alienate others.
My experience as a psychotherapist is that most people have never really learned to hear each other or to communicate their needs in a skilled way. It is more challenging than it sounds to regulate that team of wild horses inside us and not blow up at each other. We are imprinted early in our lives to be bullies, withdraw, or rebel. I saw my mother rage nightly at us, while my dad cowered. What did that teach me? But we can learn to understand our triggers and upsets and to create conversations that clear up conflict.
I believe we need systems changes, no doubt…everything from assessment of police to teaching kids in school to understand their emotions and learn communication 101. We need more mental health help, housing, affordable healthcare, etc. Systems need to change, with new values and a vision that includes the common good.
But we, the people, also have to change. We are like weeds with deep roots. We react with hair-trigger emotional hairballs, without trying to understand each other. Do we gossip or criticize, blame or separate, carrying on our little wars? We can get better at having difficult dialogues while saying our good intentions.
We should care about civil rights and prejudice but we also have a responsibility to work out our daily differences, withholds, and bridge divides in our communities. It’s harder than it sounds.