To allow oneself to be carried away
by a multitude of conflicting concerns,
to surrender to too many demands,
to commit oneself to too many projects,
to want to help everyone in everything,
is to succumb to violence.
—Thomas Merton, Trappist monk
I went to the movies during Christmas break and saw the latest Star Wars movie. My housemates asked me how I liked it, and I told them that I found it very violent, was lost a bit in the story line because I had not seen the last few episodes, but all in all I enjoyed the experience. I’m not sure if “enjoyed” is the right word, but I did get a lot out of the continual battle between good and evil, which pretty much, in my opinion, is the plot of the whole story beginning back in the 1970s. It is a classic theme that is usually depicted by violent thoughts and actions and lots of bad stuff happening to people, places, and things. There are also, thank heaven, characters who have redeeming qualities of goodness, helpfulness, kindness, and love.
Usually when I think of or see violence, I see shooting, blowing up things and people, vehicles crashing into each other, street fights, terrorism on various levels, wars, and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. I usually don’t think of the concept of mindless violence as described by Thomas Merton in the quote above. Suzanne Stabile came up with the term “mindless violence” after reading Merton’s quote. She actually offered a class in Mindless Violence at the retreat center where she worked and had much success in getting other adults to see how much violence they do to themselves and others as they go about their daily lives. Let’s take a look at this new kind of violence.
In this day and age, we are all too easily drawn into conflicting concerns. One person tells you to try this job; another tells you not to and to go in another direction. One politician promises to bring back jobs; another warns that some of those jobs cause a lot of damage to our health and the environment. A doctor prescribes surgery to get rid of back pain; another tells you that injections and exercise will take care of the pain. You are feeling overwhelmed and indecisive and become anxious, doing violence to your spirit.
What about all the demands being made on you by family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc.? So many folks want you to commit yourself to helping a frail family member, volunteering at the neighborhood soup kitchen, taking on the leadership of a fundraiser at church or at work, etc. It may seem as if you are being asked to help everyone and do everything, and that is what constitutes “mindless violence.”
As you reflect on these demands in your life, you may want to take into consideration the violence that can take place just driving to and from work or running an errand. Even to the point of doing the driving when there were others that could have done so but you chose to add the task to your very busy schedule. Think of how much time you spend on your cell phone or computer or watching TV when you could be doing other things or doing nothing at all because you refuse to add to the mindless violence in your life. Even the hustle and bustle of the recent holidays can add a lot of mindless violence to an already full life. Do you really need to make dozens of cookies, cut down your own tree, buy gifts for everyone in your family, etc.? Can you see the violence here even in these well-meaning acts?
When am I doing violence to myself in such mindless ways? My measure is to assess the level of anxiety, resentment, even anger at doing things for others when I really don’t need to add such tasks to my already full life. I need to say “no” and prioritize my activities to meet the energy, health, and feeling of well-being at this age and stage in my life. Aging, illness, and death teach us these lessons, but I don’t think we have to wait for these things to happen to us before we learn the lessons of mindless violence. Be gentle with yourself so you can be gentle with others. Love yourself so you can love others too. Reflect often on the ways that violence enters into your actions, and mindless violence will eventually be overcome in your life and in the lives of those you meet.❦