I wrote a poem once called Hurt People Hurt People. The wisdom of human experience has shown this dynamic to be true and authentic. Human beings hurt others because they’ve been hurt by others. This is perhaps one of the core pieces of the reason we have conflicts in ourselves, our families, our communities, our nations, and on the planet.
Recently I’ve been reading and contemplating why, in particular, men are conditioned to solve their problems and issues by means of violence. This is why the U.S. goes to war—we feel threatened (even if we use the cover of doing it for the sake of U.S. citizens and the protection of Democracy), so we take our arms and go to war against whatever country we see as rogue.
In my research, I read a story by Gordon Murray, a vet and a psychotherapist, entitled Picking on the little guy: in boyhood and on the battlefield. I found Murray’s story in Boyhood, (Growing up Male. A Multicultural Anthology. (1993). Franklin Abbott (Ed.). Freedom: The Crossing Press).
He refers to Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti. Pardon the long quote from his book, but he describes a process that usually has a consequence of physical violence, but certainly inner violence for the one who still has a wound:
Those most beset by commands are children. It is a miracle that they ever survive the pressure and do not collapse under the burden of commands laid on them by their parents and teachers. That they in turn, and in an equally cruel form, should give identical commands to their children is as natural as mastication or speech. What is surprising is the way in which commands are retained intact and unaltered from earliest childhood, ready to be used again as soon as the next generation provides victims….It is as though a man pulled out an arrow which had hit him, fitted that same arrow to his bow and shot it again.
The sting forms during the carrying out of the command. It detaches itself from the command and, as an exact image, impinges itself on the performer….It remains isolated within the person concerned, a foreign body lodged in his flesh….It is very difficult to get rid of the sting….For this to happen there must be an exact repetition of the original command-situation, but in reverse (author’s italics). This is what the sting waits for through months, years and decades….When this moment comes, and then the sting seizes its opportunity and hastens to fall on its victim.
The sting is the open or hidden wound, seeking a way to heal, and a way out of its prison. The sting isn’t just a male thing, it’s also a female thing, too; in short, it’s a human thing. If we walk in a fog of forgetfulness we have no awareness of the power of the sting, even though we can be aiming stings in all directions, like someone with amnesia shooting with an AK47. “Healing isn’t the absence of suffering” (p. 58, Claude Anshin Thomas. (2006). At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace. Boston: Shambhala Press).
You can’t just “wish away” the sting; just know its reality and how it feels in your life. The more mindful we are about the sting and its consequential pain, the more we can see that we have choices, regarding whether we pass on the sting to others.
Perhaps there’s a collective sting? The day after President Johnson ordered the initial bombing of North Vietnam, he said, ‘”I didn’t just screw Ho Chi Minh, I cut his pecker off.”’ Continuing he said, ‘”Hell, he has to squat to piss.”’ Johnson really had no idea, I’m sure, of the metaphorical/felt-fact/impact he had uttered. From his lips passed the archetype of the cyclical reality of command-and-sting.
Unfortunately we haven’t yet excavated the deep inroads in our culture of this cycle. There has been some progress, even in the ranks of vets, who are mainly outside the mainstream edifice of the Military System. Even for this small shift I’m grateful.
Clearly, there needs to be more in the moving awareness of disarming the power of the command and sting. We can all reflect on our sphere of influence and ask if there are possibilities of discussing this dynamic, and bringing it out into the open. Cycles only can keep repeating when they are kept in the crypt of silence and denial.
© Christopher Bear-Beam October 30, 2012