There have been a lot of triggering events this week.
If you’ve been feeling heavy, disillusioned, raw, frustrated – you’re not alone.
I feel like I’ve been inundated with chaos and bad news, and it’s been hard to go about my daily business as if all is well and nothing is happening.
All is not well.
A collection of sociopathically-inclined, power-hungry, seemingly empathy-devoid humans currently occupy positions of unimaginable power in our world, directly threatening our collective health and the well-being of this planet.
These men want to win at war-games and rapacious wealth-building. They are intelligent, predatory, self-aggrandizing masters of manipulation and gaslighting.
Embroiled in empire-building, they seek security through hoarding, violence, and murder, and they maintain control over others using fear, deception, self-interest, and manipulation.
Not only are we living through a global pandemic, coupled with increasingly polarized political strife, propaganda, and vitriol, but the climate crisis also continues to worsen, and I feel like I’m witnessing the possibility of World War III emerging through a range of videos shared by civilians surviving on the front lines of the most recent Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Although the latest invasion of Ukraine is front and center for many Europeans right now, let’s remain aware that there are 27 different major conflicts happening across the world right now. They all matter.
I can hardly keep up, and I’m exhausted. I swing between denial, dissociation, and depression, trying to find a way to make sense of the complex inner conflicts and strong emotions alive within me.
And while I have been writing pages about the tragic state of humanity, I’ll spare you from all of my venting and theorizing today and simply focus on this:
If the world is about to descend into war and face increasing food, water, and oil shortages, while trying to survive on a planet suffering from massive deforestation, pollution, and a climate crisis, here’s a question to consider:
What kinds of skills and capacities will humans need in order to survive?
If things go to hell in a handbasket, we’ll need humans who are creative, intelligent, informed, and globally conscious. They’ll need to know how to work together, think together, and have each other’s backs. We’ll need people who are courageous, who have a vision to unite around, who want to create a way forward that works for everyone to sustain life on our planet.
We’ll need to be flexible, adaptable, hard-working, and able to think on our feet and outside of our comfort zones. We’ll need people who know how to care, how to heal, how to grow and learn. They’ll need to know how to communicate, how to build bridges, how to forgive, how to make amends.
But what if this crisis is averted? What if things really aren’t “that bad”? What if all the media is blowing everything out of proportion? What kind of skills and capacities will humans need then?
The exact same ones.
What’s happening inside each of us as we go through this is just as important as what is happening around us.
For me, this serves as a grounding focus:
No matter what is happening in the world around me, who am I going to be?
Will I have courage like President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine? Will I be able to face threat and violence by standing with integrity for what I believe in, or will I falter and succumb to my fears and my defenses?
Will I descend into the familiar default fight, flight, freeze defenses and become either aggressive, violent, and self-righteous, or cowering, silenced, and immobilized?
Or, will I connect with my deeper values and find meaningful ways to live into those values, no matter what may come?
These are not theoretical questions now. This is an active, personal examination of how I am currently spending my time, my attention, and my resources. My answer to these questions is found, in part, by watching myself in my daily life and relationships today.
But what can we do in this moment?
It’s no wonder many of us feel so helpless. By the time someone has billions of dollars and military might at their disposal, by the time they have murdered in the name of righteous leadership and entitlement, it’s too late for many of us to intervene in any meaningful way. In other words, it’s very difficult to stop someone who has already amassed this much power and gotten away with this much corruption.
To explore how all this might apply to our own personal lives it can be helpful to understand that these violent, aggressive, selfish men didn’t appear out of nowhere. They weren’t created in a vacuum. They are as much products of their cultures, environments, and relationships as each of us are.
→ Every time that we minimize or excuse violence in our personal lives, rationalizing it or glorifying it, we contribute to cultures in which men and systems like these continue to be empowered.
→ Every time we tell a girl that when a boy hits her, it means he likes her, we contribute to the normalizing of violent behavior, gaslighting people who feel harmed.
→ Every time we tell ourselves that it’s okay to hit our children, or continue to believe the lie that people deserve suffering so they can learn to be “good” (read: obedient), we legitimize violence and suffering as a solution to human problems.
The seeds and roots of these global crises start out small and personal, in our individual hearts and in each of our personal relationships. If you want to make a meaningful difference in creating a different world, let me suggest some personal growth tasks that you might want to consider taking on:
1. Focus on what you can directly influence.
Ask yourself these questions:
a. Who do I want to be?
b. What matters to me?
Bring it home: Consider how you can realign your time, attention, and resources with your deepest values. Make a plan of bite-sized daily steps you can take to put your plan into tangible action.
2. Apply the protective use of force when needed.
We need to empower ourselves and one another to enact the protective use of force whenever vulnerable, innocent people are being attacked, and we need to stop dehumanizing entire populations of civilians as if they are the property or sole responsibility of the current power-monger.
Aggression needs to be stopped. There is a huge difference between the violence of the oppressor, and the violence of the oppressed, and collectively we need to get much clearer on these distinctions.
Bring it home: Start educating yourself on the critical differences between the punitive use of force and the protective use of force. Figure out all the places in your life where you’re not setting boundaries where you know you need to and start practicing doing the uncomfortable things.
3. Transform dehumanization.
That part of you that enjoys thinking about how your favorite enemy should suffer? Start there.
Watch for every moment that you’re tempted to join dehumanizing consciousness, every time you talk about “those people” and how much you’d like to kill them or get rid of them or make them suffer. Find the roots of hatred and violence in yourself, soften into those parts and bring them into consciousness. Become aware of your fears, your shadows, your capacity for violence, and actively practice re-humanizing those you currently fear and despise.
In order for this practice not to simply become a limp form of people-pleasing and codependency and denial, you’ll need to simultaneously develop your ability to engage with the protective use of force when needed to protect yourself and others from imminent harm.
Bring it home: Which people are you finding yourself dehumanizing, labeling, and othering? What emotional states are you trying to manage by doing this? Is this an unconscious strategy for soothing your helplessness? Your sense of vulnerability? Your desire for agency and relevance? What states are most likely to drive you into “othering” consciousness? What might help you stand with more love, choice, and co-creation?
4. Act with integrity.
It will take creative consciousness, intention, and effort to find ways of being, living, and responding that model a new way of being instead of simply re-creating the existing blame, shame, power, and control games that have brought us into this mess to begin with.
We cannot create nonviolence by using violence.
We cannot create peace by invading and aggressing against others.
We cannot create compassionate connections by berating, controlling, and coercing other human beings into being more like us.
We need to take on the task of actively living into our values, especially when we feel helpless and hopeless. Especially when lives are at stake.
Every time you dissolve your own self-righteousness, you serve peace.
Every time you choose to be kind instead of harsh, you contribute to peace.
Every time you put yourself in another person’s shoes, you strengthen peace.
Bring it home: Where in your life are you judging and controlling others in the name of peaceful or nonviolent values? When are you letting yourself be mean, rejecting, or unkind while trying to create a compassionate, life-affirming world?
5. Use language consciously.
Become more aware of how our habitual use of language frames up our reality in inaccurate and distorted ways.
For example, saying that “Russia” is invading “Ukraine” is problematic. To be specific, Putin made a decision and gave an order. Military personnel then obediently implemented his orders. When we say “The Russians” are fighting with “The Ukranians,” it’s not only a gross oversimplification of the situation and dehumanizing to millions of people, but also subtly takes responsibility away from those individuals in power who are making abhorrent decisions that affect our global well-being.
The problem here lies with a person in power, not with an entire nation of people.
Why does this matter? Because when countries try to exert non-military force by placing sanctions on “Russia,” they contribute to the suffering of many fearful people who are already suffering. Let’s find solutions that address the aggressor himself more directly, instead of using entire nations of people as pawns.
Furthermore, in reference to some comparisons that reporters are making in the news between conflicts worldwide: European is not more “civilized.” White is not “better.” Christian does not mean “righteous.”
If we truly want to stand for a peaceful, sustainable world, we need to stop forcing people into groups, turning the groups into enemies and then justifying violence against those groups. The cycles of violence and revenge will never end if we keep playing that game.
Bring it home: Notice the ways in which you’re using language unconsciously to reinforce problematic power structures and obfuscate blame and responsibility from the actual decision-makers. If you’re white, start to catch the ways in which you may subtly perceive conflicts between European countries as more important than conflicts between nations that are ethnically or racially different from you and work to rehumanize your perceptions of and care for all people. Talk about the people who live in Russia, the people who live in Afghanistan, the people who live in Rwanda, the people who live in Yemen, etc. Pay attention to how this subtle change may impact your thoughts, perceptions and feelings toward and about those people.
Peacemaking starts with us.
Peace begins with our relationship with ourselves: the ways in which we’ve made peace with our fullest humanity, become conscious and choiceful about our capacities, and aligned our actions with our deepest values and intentions.
Then, we take that peace work into our relationships with others in our lives. We stop dehumanizing others and we drop our enemy images. We seek out shared humanity with all people, we build bridges, we put ourselves in one another’s shoes. We learn how to talk to each other, how to listen deeply, and how to co-create a new path forward.
Along the way, don’t lose heart.
Be gentle with yourself.
It’s okay to zone out and check out now and then to get some relief.
Restore yourself and rest.
It’s hard to go about things as if it’s business as usual when collective disasters seem to be happening more frequently and more intensely.
I’ll end with this: I welcome the defeat and containment of unethical people who currently hold positions of power and feed on fear and violence for their own personal gain. They exist in every culture and in every nationality.
Be careful, however, not to buy into the illusion that the real conflict merely lies between Russians and Ukrainians, or whatever two groups happen to be on display at that moment. The vast majority of human beings want to live together in peace and get on with the business of creating a sustainable, living, vibrant world.
Let’s support one another in the personal commitment, inner work, and skill development that allows us to uproot the seeds of violence and injustice in our hearts, to live with a deep commitment to embodying love in all that we do, and to create new structures on our planet that empower us to employ the protective, ethical, and effective use of force when faced with madmen, monsters, and murderers. We can interrupt the cycles of violence without perpetuating hatred and harm.
How do these ideas land with you? Please leave a comment below if you’d like to share.
And for more conversation and exploration of these points, you’re welcome to join our community of openhearted learners. See below for some options for ways to connect.
Want to go deeper in this work?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: