Preventing Violence through Self-Knowledge

I have been intensely interested in learning my whole life.  Gaining information was one kind of knowledge, but I have always been particularly inspired by learning about the self. This is the kind of knowledge that is not accumulated.  In fact, you have to go through a process of unlearning to see your true self.  This is something I found out by continuously digging and digging.  It turns out that while discovering the self, I got myself out of the way. It turns out that this digging was in fact clearing out the dirt so as to see clearly.  In a sense, it was learning to get rid of knowledge.  The knowledge about myself, in the form of identity, personality, psychological behaviors, was no longer useful for me.  This is my little revolution that I would like to share.

Academic institutions have developed theories upon theories to explain human behavior.  Practitioners have taken these theories and formed ‘methods’, ways of applying theories to tell us how to analyse ourselves and therefore be better people.  But these theories and methods always seemed to create a distance – the theory and the practice, learning about something outside of yourself.  I once went to a conference about Conflict Resolution and asked a very simple question, “does learning about violence prevent violence?”.  The speaker responding presented me with theories and histories and then the slight doubt of “I’m not sure if I answered your question.”  I said “no”, and we moved on.

But let’s look at this simple question more deeply.  Does learning about violence prevent violence?  It’s not a trick question.  If the answer is yes, then I would like to know how.  It seems to me that we are continuously studying our violent histories and continuously being violent.  Learning about past wars is not actually preventing any wars.  It has become a conditioned cliche to say that if we learn from our mistakes, we do not repeat them, but we in fact repeat them every day! Can we stop to really think about this deeply, and not take cliches as truths?

The other answer is that learning about violence does not actually prevent violence, and therefore my follow up question is “why are we doing it?”  Is it for our own self-interest?  Is it to come up with another theory and get recognized for it?  If this is so, we do not have to concentrate so much on it, just acknowledge it and move on.  But the more interesting question to concentrate on would then be – how do we prevent violence?

And the answer to this comes back to my little revolution about self-knowledge.  To know how to prevent violence, we have to know why violence occurs.  I mean violence in the sense of conflict, division, and war.  The immediate answer, the one we are used to automatically going to, is looking outside of ourselves – violence is caused by the greedy, the hateful, the angry, the racist – basically, the other.  But what if violence is caused by this idea that there is an ‘other’? and therefore this idea that there is a ‘you’ separate from the ‘other’?  In order to look at this more deeply, you have to look a bit at yourself.  This is the hardest part.  Most people feel comfortable in talking about someone else’s conflict.  To look at your own is not something we learn how to do in our education system.  To look at your own means to acknowledge fear, loneliness, sorrow.  Mostly we want to run away from these emotions by covering them up with our search for solutions, theories, our morality about the right way to live.  But since these moralities differ in each person, the sense of morality itself might be the divider here.

I started to break down my own borders by just taking a look at how I have defined these borders.  My nationality, religion, personality, past experiences, judgements – all these entities are only making a border between me and you.  The belief in these entities causes violence.  Now the mind will try to immediately jump to a conclusion – “don’t judge”.  And this is a subtle trick of the mind.  “Don’t judge” is another morality that divides.  The idea is to constantly recognise and be aware of these mind tricks. Preventing violence is not an act of ‘doing’ or ‘not doing’ but of seeing.  It is not to stop judging, because that is impossible, but it’s to recognise and see these judgements.  When you can see the judgement, then you are not the judgement.

I am not an authority on self-knowledge.  To say this would mean that we have a hierarchy on seeing truth.  I’ll leave that up to organised religion.  The people who inspired me did so not as authorities but as people who challenged me to keep looking within, because they looked within and saw me as no different from them. If you are me, then we have nothing to fight about.