Violence

Again, disjointed. Mind the gaps…Also, still unable to upload photos, not sure why…

Nearly all Westerners have, at some point, come across the image of the omnipotent Tibe$an monk sitting, meditating, timelessly, on an impossibly remote mountaintop deep into the heart of a snowblasted range of peaks, blissfully disconnected from all below him and, as such, intimately receptive to all around him; living in a state of eternal peace and solitude and dispensing morsels of erudite wisdom to those rare individuals who, from the troubled world below, manage to find his lofty abode. Indeed, this image can be so pervasive that it seems to have become the standard perception of the Tibe$an people as a whole. When not meditating on vertiginous mountaintops, the story goes, this humble but enlightened populace spends their time doing good works and – as follows the image of the mountaintop monk – dispensing, bit by bit, their uncommonly profound wisdom of the everyday, and of their peaceful environment (in conveniently proverb-sized chunks), to those outsiders who have sought them out. The image is, of course, that of a remote mountain paradise, a Shangri-la (or Shambhala) of tolerance, peace and enlightenment that – due to the modern world’s corruption and violence – can only continue to exist in these remote mountain fastnesses, and within these enlightened communities.

Outside of China, Tibe&ans have perhaps the best reputation and overall PR of any ethnic group in the world. Whatever atrocities or difficulties may occur on the plateau, they will always be overshadowed by the image of the people as enlightened and beyond worldly problems. Of course, this is not truly the case (yet…) – for Tibe&ans or for any people in the world. Locally, the image of a peacefully enlightened people is regularly destroyed by lethal fights over caterpillar fungus-digging grounds and pasturelands, by clan wars, and by all manner of random fighting. I’m not trying to pickon the Tibe&ans; rather, I’m simply noting that this – violence – is a problem that is shared by nearly every ethnic group, and experienced by nearly everyone, on the earth.

I’ve been thinking about conceptions of violence and peacefulness for the past couple of days, since news broke of the horrendous murders at a Connecticut elementary school. The Chinese media, in their proclivity to shine spotlights on anything that makes America look bad, has predictably given the story top billing. Consequently, as I’ve made my routine shopping circuits around town over these couple of days, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about why, and how, such an atrocious act could be perpetrated. I have no answers. All I can say is that it is one of those times, as with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, that I feel actually ashamed to be an American.

I’ve had an undeniably privileged childhood, growing up in a warm and welcoming community and – most notably – a strong and always loving family. Nevertheless, from my experiences here and in the states, I can understand anger, loneliness, frustration, and even hatred. Despite this, I am unable to fathom a depth of any emotion that would drive me to murder – or even to violence. I wonder if this comes from some kind of ability to process these negative emotions by myself and with others, which in turn stems from my comfortable childhood; or whether, in contrast, the perpetrators of such unimaginably horrific crimes as the Connecticut shootings are driven by something else – whether positive emotions, desires to prove their self-worth or philosophical beliefs. Ultimately, I wonder, from where do such outbursts of violence come? Aren’t adults supposed to have outgrown such extremity of outward emotion and physicality? Or is violence, so prevalent in most cultures from ancient times to today, simply an aspect of human nature, and as such an important facet of human society – or at least one that is impossible to remove? Why, if seemingly nobody approves of violence, is violence so ubiquitous across the vast breadth of humanity?

Except for those people high on the plateau – those enlightened ones on their mountaintops. This image has endured, even through violent times on the plateau, precisely because of the ubiquity of violence across the world. The image of the remotely peaceful Lama-on-a-mountaintop gives us hope – hope, if not for worldwide change, then for some greater consciousness of our fellow humans and animals and plants, of the generalized other, that glimmering flicker of enlightenment that will float its way down from that remote mountaintop and make our world a more peaceful place.

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