After spending a week thinking about and studying for my psychotherapy exams, I realize that I have spent a lot of time thinking about violence as a personal experience while the nation thinks about violence as a display of patriotism; our veterans have sacrificed their lives and taken other lives for the idea of us as a country.
Violence occurs in many dimensions, and in many ways, and oftentimes it is done with simple notions of right and wrong. I realize that pacifism, to many people, is simply the antithesis of patriotic. I realize, too, that pacifism and the opposition to war can be seen as weak, and disrespectful to those that served in the military.
As a therapist, and as a pacifist, I have been called disrespectful and unpatriotic because I oppose war and violence. As a therapist, but also as a person, I strive to understand and humanize those that commit violent actions, which, I have noticed, war supporters do not do so in kind.
Whether a person is a pacifist or pro-war, I think it is important and necessary to think about war and violence in our own lives and the value that is placed on it. Sanitized notions of war as “defending democracy” deny the experience of war, for people are killed and people are killing each other. We like to think of those people that murder, that rape, that torture others as somehow monstrous, evil, and not really human. We also like to think of veterans and service members as heroic, honorable, and valued.
It is difficult, and deeply challenging, to remember that all of us, especially the angry and violent among us, are still human. We are still human when we commit violent acts out of personal pain, or out of patriotism, but it is violent.
Voltaire offered, “Every violent action destroys those small alterations in the features, which sometimes disclose the sentiments of the heart.” (1774, p. 64)
Perhaps it is true, that in wanting to destroy something else, we show our humanity as we deny others of theirs. Those small sentiments of the heart remain, even as we reduce others to victims, to monsters, to others.