...wait for it...self-awareness.
That's right. Now, if you really stop and think about it, it makes so much sense. However upon first hearing it, this did give me pause. Partially because you don't often hear deeply personal things like "self-knowledge" and "change of heart" mentioned in discussions on world peace and whatnot. And that's exactly where I first heard these claims. I remember it vividly, though it must have been 4 years ago now: I was sitting on the 2nd floor porch of the Yellow House working on a painting project with my iPad open next to me streaming a series of TED Talks when Scilla Elworthy's "Fighting with non-violence" started to play. The second reason this gave me pause was less about shock and more about excitement because, even back then, my friends and I were beginning to learn the immense importance of self-awareness work, the study of our personalities, counseling, etc. in keeping our friendships alive and the community thriving.
It just made sense. The more aware we were of ourselves, the less violent we were with each other.
Don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that we're the kind of people that went around throwing literal punches, drop-kicks, shooting things, or putting one another in choke-holds. No, not that kind of violence. Though on some days, I could see how things could escalate to that. (I'm kidding...sort of). But in all seriousness, we can do just as much violence with our words, our silences, our body language, and in our comings-and-goings as we can do with your fists and feet and weapons.
When we're aware of how we innately react to certain things and why we do, we're a little freer to choose whether we will or won't react that way the next time a similar situation arises. When we know that not everyone is going to react the same way we are, we're freed from the pressure of putting unfair, unrealistic expectations on each other...and from the hurt feelings and frustration that follow in our disappointment when those expectations aren't met. We can take fewer things personally, understanding that rarely is an interaction with a person only what it appears to be on the surface–there's always more going on. We can be aware of when we're nearing our breaking points, when we're tired and need to recharge. And we know that different people need to recharge in different ways–one becomes a hermit with a book for the weekend, the other fills the weekend with friends & shopping–and we can willingly make space for each other to do those things. When we're at fuller capacity, we can be most present and love each other more selflessly–avoiding the harsh words, brooding, over-sensitivity and/or outbursts that can come from tired persons. When we're aware of the different gifts and abilities that we each bring to the table, we can make space for each other to contribute in those ways–functioning as body less plagued by power dynamics, where everyone plays their particular part that is just as essential to the whole thing working as is the next person and his/her particular part.
That's a brief look at the interpersonal level of the connection between awareness and non-violence. I'll let you watch the TED video below if your curious about the bigger picture. But I'm grateful to be reminded that the bigger picture only changes if each of us individually is changed. I'm convinced that maybe we can't really change the world (yes, a millennial just said that), but we can change ourselves which will change our friendships which will change our communities. And a whole world of changed communities becomes a changed global community–a changed world.
So, if society is simply a system of relationships–and I believe it is–I think we're on to something here that is radical. Not radical as in extraordinary and hardly attainable by a normal person. No, but rather radical as in what that word actually means...getting to the root of something.
It doesn't feel extraordinary to have a conversation about why the dishes didn't get done (again)...or to confess an insecurity...or to take a neighbor-kid with a stinky cast on his arm to the ER for a few hours...or to ask the hard questions...or to bury a dead chicken...or to listen to confession of sexual struggles...or to watch "daddy issues" rear their heads again...or to feed your kid and change the diapers...or to sit with a friend through another day of grief over loneliness and waiting for a partner to do life with.
But these are all part of life together. And if we can do these things more peacefully and lovingly with the help of cultivating self-awareness, that we might be better aware of those around us, then by all means let's do it. And let's acknowledge that it's radical. It's healing and nourishing the roots of a giant tree that won't change for the better until it's roots are strong again...