By Gordon Davidson
Editor’s Note: Although Gordon Davidson wrote this article just after the Virginia Tech incident, it is as pertinent today, or more so, as it was then. As Americans we must continue to seriously address the violence that is occurring everywhere in our country and Gordon has graciously shared this article for our readers.
As horrified Americans watch the latest scene of mass shooting in Virginia, a raging debate over the causes of these increasing rampages has engaged the national attention as never before. Yet much of the discussion focuses on the polarized debate of whether people, guns, or the media are the primary cause of the violence. Proposed remedies focus on limiting the availability of guns, locking up the dangerous people or disciplining the media.
Perhaps a bit of “mindsweeping” is in order to locate the hidden explosives in human consciousness that are the deeper causes driving the on-going violence. One factor in this plague is the American public’s fascination with guns and the need they seem to fulfill in the human psyche. In addition to the supposedly rational reasons for needing guns: self-defense, sport uses, or as collector’s items, there are deeper needs in the human psyche that guns connect to. One is the need for power—owning and using guns attempts to meet the need for an often absent sense of personal power. Even the word “firearm” evokes images of the power wielding wizard able to spew forth death and destruction from his mighty, potentized arm. And even though it only confers the power to destroy, for many this is better than having no power at all. Violence is, on a very personal, existential level an ersatz triumph over the sense of powerlessness to change their lives that many people, especially the disadvantaged, feel in modern society.
Violence can also be an effect of our values. Valuing individuals by the size of their biceps and their bank account overlooks nearly everything essential about human beings. This includes the love and depth in our relationships, our contributions to others and to our communities, the nobility of our life purpose. When these values are replaced by the quantifying values of money and the marketplace, violence is inevitable, for there are no real inner restraints on violent economic competition, which encourages violent personal behavior. With no social encouragement to look deeper for our values, many seem to have come to the moral conclusion that “what is right is whatever you can get away with.” This erosion of shared moral and ethical values affects every one of us, and contributes to the sense of stress and unease we feel in our modern life. On a deeper level, we know that what really gives us a sense of “social security” is being part of a community fabric of widely held values and beliefs. When this is not present we all begin to feel uneasy, often seeking out smaller sub-communities where we can feel this reassurance.
In ancient times there was more of an understanding that the entire community of life was an interwoven whole, expressed by John Donne as, “no man is an island,” and epitomized by Francis Thompson’s famous words, “Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling a star.” In some earlier cultures there was a greater feeling for the unity and connectedness of all life, that we were part of a great Unity, and that all things flowed together towards ultimate good. Many people seem to have lost this deep inner sense of knowing our place in the world and in the cosmos in the bustle and pressures of modern times.
Today, however, modern quantum physics, with a set of radical new assumptions about life, energy and matter, is proving the reality of this ancient world view of the interconnectedness of all life. Quantum physicists are now saying that what we think of as “solid matter” is actually 99+% empty space. What we think of as particles can also be seen as waves, and that a variety of “fields of energy,” including gravitational, electromagnetic, and quantum fields are the real substance of the universe. And wherever these fields intersect and interact they produce particles.
This field theory of reality describes a universe of multidimensional fields of energy and also states that whatever occurs in one part of the field affects the entire whole. This has been famously described in chaos theory, where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world can be a cause of a storm in another part of the world. So, from the perspective of quantum science, we are all the results of multiple, interacting fields of energy. The wisdom of the ancients would say that these energies also include human emotional, mental and spiritual energies that are moving through us as we go about our daily lives.
If we–as well as the entire universe–are simply fields of energy in motion, then each of us is part of these larger fields, and in fact all these fields form a unified field of energy, which the ancients called the One, God or “the boundless universe.” And if, as scientists are saying, a butterfly can cause a storm halfway around the world, what is the impact of each act of violence on all of us as part of this unified field? How does it affect our thinking and feeling, and how does it diminish us? Even if we live in a gated community, with three locks on our doors, can we protect ourselves from the contraction, the loss of openness and joy, when we hear about the senseless deaths like the recent Virginia Tech shootings, the Columbine shootings, the violence of angry employees, the deaths from war in Iraq or elsewhere? It is not difficult to see that violence anywhere diminishes us all wherever we live.
There is an additional insight that quantum physics offers us on the hotly debated issue of the influence of media in causing violence. Quantum scientists have found that unobserved quantum phenomena are radically different from observed ones. Scientists are even going so far as to question whether there is any such thing as reality independent of our acts of observation. Particles can turn into waves, and waves into particles, depending on what you are measuring, or what you are looking for. In the quantum world, what you see is what you get. Yet people have given very little thought to the implications of these discoveries for understanding our human social interactions. What if, in the act of observing or looking for violence, we are actually causing more of it? The ancients’ way of expressing this was “energy follows thought.” But what if our fascination with and display of endless violence in TV and the movies is part of the drawing forth of this phenomena?
We have all heard the arguments about the impact of television on human behavior. Because of the videotape they left behind, we cannot dispute the fact that the two boys in the Columbine shootings a few years ago carried out their acts of murder knowing they would become famous and finally be “seen” by others– if not in their lives, then in their deaths. Could the constant observation of thousands of acts of violence by a large segment of earth’s population be, in fact, causing more of it to be perpetrated on all of us? If the assertions of quantum scientists are correct, we are making a major mistake by focusing so much of our observational capacity on exactly what we don’t want — more acts of violence. Instead we should be creating and highlighting stories of real and fictional heroes and heroines who overcome difficulties and challenges and serve the larger community of life. In making this the focus of our observation and participation, we will be calling this forth from ourselves and the human community.
Thus the debate over media violence has become a debate over the power of imagination to affect human behavior. Does motivation begin in the mind? Are images father to the deed? Modern athletes have discovered that visualizing perfect performance in a tennis match, or seeing themselves flawlessly sinking a basketball is as effective as actually physically practicing. The brain and mind seem to use these virtually visualized performance pathways as patterns to follow when the action actually begins. This corresponds with spiritual teaching throughout the ages which says, “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We become what we contemplate. If we spend hours a day watching or hearing violence, hatred, and evil doing on television, movies, “shock radio” or video games, can we really believe that this will not affect, if not our actions, at least our attitudes? If we see the world as more violent (even though statistics say violent crime is down), will we not become more defensive, cynical and untrusting? Is this the kind of people we wish to be?
Yet this culture is a product of the sum total all of our individual consciousnesses, attitudes and values, and just as we created it, we have the power to change it.
So what can each of us do? Here are some suggestions:
1) Refuse to watch violent television, movies, or video games, and instead spend the extra time reading, meditating, being with family members, or engaging in activities that are healthy and uplifting.
2) Write to companies that sponsor violent shows telling them you will not watch their programs or buy their products if they continue to sponsor such violence. (Research has found that it only takes 15-20 letters to have a major impact on companies).
3) Learn conflict resolution techniques through seminars, books or websites to help diffuse conflict before it escalates to violence.
4) Support national and/or community based groups that offer mediation and violence prevention services.
5) Help children develop their imagination, creativity and self-directed play, free from media generated violent images or “action heroes.”
6) Help children discover the healing and restorative powers of nature by spending time with them in natural environments.
Gordon Davidson is co-founder of The Center for Visionary Leadership in the San Francisco and Washington, D.C areas., and co-author of Spiritual Politics (Foreword by the Dalai Lama). Gordon served as Executive Director of the Social Investment Forum and The Center for Environmentally Responsible Economies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; www.visionarylead.org.