While becoming acquainted with Brattleboro, I noticed one thing that set it apart from living in Connecticut all of my life: Most people seemed to pride themselves on their belief in non-violence and, in fact, tote it around like a badge of honor. Any jokes about smacking or punching someone silly had to stay behind the locked doors of my lips -- or at least only be exchanged with many of my friends who understood them as figures of speech or ways of venting.
Our ways of speaking or joking about these various or other forms of violence doesn't mirror our regular lives. Yet, I was (and in some cases still remain) an outcast among many who prefer to talk about sending love vibrations or signals to everyone as opposed to admitting when you would love to tell someone to get lost.
Despite the seemingly friendly Shangri-la of non-violence speak that I have grown accustomed to, there is something else that I have noticed as an undercurrent here in town and highly applicable to many other places outside of Brattleboro: Our need to expand upon what we mean when we discuss violence with each other or our children as we prop ourselves up by boasting about our non-complicity in physical violence. Unlike much of what I witnessed in Hartford, Conn., I've not seen many fights upon the Brattleboro streets, nor has my heart quickened from wondering if distant sudden bangs are gunshots. I am not saying that these or other physical forms of violence
The other acts of violence that are subtle yet severe include: judgment of others; against ourselves through suppression or denial; the act of denying each other authenticity.
Everyone has judgment and I would argue that we use it to keep safe in a number of situations. However, as a former newbie in town, I have had assigned/unsolicited ambassadors in town who took it upon themselves to sketch out everyone -- who was safe, who was crazy, who does this, who does that. As I became a part of the community, I carried these mental sketches around with me as I found myself also privately participating in the judgment making. The assault on character that we as humans often do to each other -- something that I am coming to learn is inevitable in communities and groups. When words are a part of a tapestry of judging, finger pointing and perching (I am guilty of all three), then they enter into a different realm becoming the invisible bullets we use to assault people preventing us from truly knowing their reality, truth or story. Instead, the judgment acts as a way for us to shape a world that we really know nothing about
The same things that caused me to fall in love with Brattleboro (some of the spirituality, yoga and meditation to name a few) are some of the same things that I have witnessed as an aspect of violent action that people have used against themselves. Never in once place have I met so many healers, spiritualists, etc. -- I have appreciated my experience in coming in contact with many of these gifted individuals. For some though, the path of denial -- whether it is taking vows or making a pact to deny human urges (fasting or celibacy), couldn't that be a form of violence? Seemingly these things are healthy. Like the person who over exercises, we ignore these behaviors because we have categorized them as healthy and good. Conversely, when people deny themselves the things that we have categorized in our culture as bad or unneeded we elevate these actions to a status of nobility when in fact it is just self-inflicted violence via suppression.
Another form of self-inflicted violence is the way we have corked our emotions. Consider the automated response to the question, "How are you?" -- regardless of how we're feeling at that exact moment. Or how about people that talk about peace and love and then turn around and talk about how they want to beat up so-and-so. Though this very topic of suppressing emotions is its own discussion, I will venture to say that this is the highest form of violence we do to ourselves and others as we continually place the cork on all of our emotions bubbling up inside of us. Why exhaust ourselves with smiles or the lie that things are good, denying ourselves the right to verbally express feelings of disappointment, hurt, anger, etc.? Worse is to make others feel guilty for expressing these honest, pure and raw feelings within the moments when they may be most hurt or just need to verbally purge.
It is challenging at best to truly know oneself. However, I do believe that on some level we can offer each other moments of authenticity. Inevitably, for safety reasons and otherwise, we employ masks, personas and other devices regularly. The degree or level to which we use these things to pawn off as our "selves" as we are attempting to connect takes us further away from having real moments. Within our long-term relationships that we create with various individuals, if we don't allow ourselves to drop our masks for that authentic exchange, then we violently (whether conscious or unconscious) have taken away the other persons right to proceed with the exchange based on the false presentation of self.
So what is my point? For us to feel bad about all of the acts of violence we have all participated in? Quite the contrary, I want us to relax a bit -- realize that whether it is conscious or unconscious, subtle or physical, we are all violent creatures. What good is it to talk about opposing war, guns, or boast of backing out of physical fighting if you constantly create subtle forms of violence within your self, your home, or within a community? If we cast ourselves down from the pedestal of non-violence and embrace the many ways we swim in this murky water of subtle violence, maybe then we can embrace violence as a question of whether we wish to inflict it upon others or ourselves and accept the circumstances placing us into those situations.
Shanta Crowley writes from Brattleboro. You can read her blog at www.Reformer802.com/realtalk.