Posts Tagged ‘trauma’

I attended a panel discussion recently on this topic and noted an appeal for ideas to deal with the issue. I was struck by the universality of inspirational comments, the language of terrorism or enemies, and the almost reflex response of dealing with risk, radicalization or violence from the perspective of “identification and response”, in punitive or treatment approaches, “appeals to behaviour” regarding religious tenants or values, or community obligations. For all the good words, I felt more concern than hope in the room. There is a saying; “you cannot drink the word water.” In this regard, I felt a need for something practical to emerge.

I view language as critical here. In my view there needs to be more awareness of Rosenberg’s theory of Non violent communication. Labelling people as enemies, terrorists or violent extremists is, in a sense, an act of creation that leads us down a path to violence and war, with an implicit licence to invoke lethal force. This means more military, more weapons, more suffering and more collateral damage. That said I do agree that many struggle to find peaceful solutions.   Surely we can do better.

There is another saying; “those who would kill; know that harming others will not bring an end to your suffering.” Perhaps this is an interesting way to view those who choose violence, as also victims of suffering.   It was agreed that causes of such behaviour were everything from numerous, to incredibly complex,  to completely unknown.   However, it can be known that suffering and impermanence exists for us all, the question may become one of how we can all deal with suffering in our lives.

So what is practical in this reality? To start perhaps we need a better balance between controlling wrongdoing and building peace. This means appreciating the difference between positive and negative peace. This means a keen awareness of mimetic structures at play. Mimetic structures are how we pass on cultures of peace or cultures of violence. People have a predisposition to mimic their cultural or family values and beliefs in order to belong or survive.

What is practical in building communities of peace? Perhaps we need an approach of the “whole person” and “whole of community.” Perhaps we need an understanding that one can only build peace, by beginning with “peace within”, before expecting to create “peace between” others in our communities.

This opens many doors. The door to building life practices in people, that seeks to cultivate a “mind of peace”, inner peace, equanimity, mindfulness, presence; and practices and techniques for the understanding of, and dealing with, suffering and trauma in its impermanence and pain, in all the roots of conditions or causes that are not-self.

Also there is the door to building community practices. This may involve training all (children, youth men, women, elders) in the basics of building peace, such as non violent communication, conflict resolution, reconciliation and closure, ethics and ethical decision making, good values, and living well in the company of each other. At a higher level building good governance, human security, economic viability and social needs such as health, education, wellbeing.

Also there is the door to building a group of peace practitioners in the community, especially in the youth. Peace practitioners that lead by example, with capacities around principles of being presence in arising conflict or issues, impartiality, advocating human rights, and have communication or dialogue skills. This may give youth alternatives to conflict through building positive purpose and meaning. Youth with peace building skills, non violent social activism, a voice, and participation in governance can be a powerful contributor to community wellbeing. Training and certifying peace practitioners is easy, and may begin with a “peace within” focus followed by skills education and experience.

So are we in the business of countering violent extremism or building communities of peace, or both? Which has priority? Perhaps the saying “I am one and only one; but will not refuse to do what one can do” has merit. We need small but visionary steps. Good luck to us all.

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It is time to try something different.  Military forces can be seen as a study in cultural rigidity. In a military conference I attended this year, a session on encountering child soldiers, trauma, PTSD and moral injury, the response alluded to ”mental health briefings” as a solution to what may lead to depression or suicide. In a strong warrior culture with the suicide rates being what they are (20 per day in the US among military veterans) belies the effectiveness of briefings. “Killing is killing” and anyone doing so, for just cause or not, encounters a traumatic event. The only question is – will they then be traumatized? This is part of what I am trying to address as a peace professional in first nations work and in a current peace and reconciliation project in the Tamils and Sinhalese diaspora, who have severe trauma issues and a child soldier problem.

There is a saying regarding all this, “one cannot drink the word water”. One does not create strong soldiers by talking about push-ups. One needs to exercise and go running every day. The same can be said for mental or trauma resiliency. Briefings are insufficient without strong military life practices. This means adding or changing certain military service practices and their acceptance in military culture. This would take courage because such practices in some ways may run counterculture to a warrior ethos that is not well suited to real independent and critical thinking and living values that are necessary for wellbeing, such as compassion, inner peace and equanimity. A rebalancing of military culture that blends mental health and resiliency with military ethics certainly begins with serious thinking about “military meaning and purpose” in war and conflict. If the trauma issue is to be seriously addressed, military culture should evolve to include continuous practices of wellbeing, mindfulness, breath practices, presence, and meditation. Military culture must understand the nature of suffering and trauma from the perspective of impermanence and that there are alternatives to victimization and depression. Mental wellbeing and causing harm or violence have a fundamental incompatibility. This is a significant and maybe an impossible challenge in a military culture. Good luck to us, or the consequences will be just more suicides and trauma.