A couple of days after the shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, I had a conversation with a journalist friend of mine about it. “What happened to those children is an absolute atrocity,” she said. “And I’m sure you’re going to disagree with me on this, but in this case I really believe in an eye for an eye. I’m glad Adam Lanza is dead.”
My friend is of course familiar with my devotion to the Yogic path. When she said what she said, her expression was as fierce as her words. This was a person who was obviously suffering a great deal in response to what had happened on December 14, but what was most significant wasn’t her vehement need for justice. It was her resignation.
“But what can we do about it?” she finally said.
Cancer is a disease that takes many shapes and forms, and is often treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and other modalities to remove the growths. In some cases, it’s a manageable issue that never comes back, and in other cases, it can become an overwhelming disease that takes over the entire body. And while a cancer victim may be given general advice on how to live more healthfully, it’s not always a given that they receive insight into the cause of the disease. Despite interventions of the past, nothing would prevent the occurrence of further cancer in the future.
I explained to my friend that violence works the same way.
Many people have said many things in response to the shootings. Some have declared that we have to enforce gun control legislation, while others have debated the potential relevance of Adam Lanza having been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. But stating that guns are to blame, demanding an eye for an eye, and arguing with each other about the best way to end violence is like treating cancer with chemotherapy: it might seem to resolve the issue on the surface temporarily, but it doesn’t address whatever is causing it to grow. Cancer can come back as a result of poor lifestyle choices, and so can violence. And also just like cancer, violence can become so aggressive that it takes over everything. On that day in Connecticut, the disease of violence overwhelmed us all.
The Yogic path teaches us that the way we treat ourselves finds its way out into the rest of the world. Violence, while it of course includes yelling at people and physically attacking them, also includes mistreating ourselves in the form of eating unnatural foods in large amounts, spending too much time on the computer, sleeping too much, sleeping too little, and anything else that adds to our imbalance. Then, when we’re presented with an occurrence like what happened in Sandy Hook, we are already so imbalanced that we become filled with hate and anger. We don’t want love for the world, but rather a quick fix. We want an eye for an eye.
It is New Year’s, a time when we resolve to live differently. Usually, we resolve to diet for the sake of losing weight or to attract a relationship to make ourselves happy. But what if we resolved to not just lose weight but to treat ourselves with kindness? What if we intended to help others to alleviate their suffering, and more fulfilling relationships emerged as a result? If, as both individuals and as a culture, we embraced the Yogic practice of nonviolence, we would no longer have to worry about our resolutions a year from now. We wouldn’t have to consider what we should do the next time a tragedy like this takes place.
Indeed, each of us would have addressed the cause of our violence and the disease would never come back.
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