Ending Violent CrimeIntroduction | Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Epilogue
An End to Crime?
Leaders of the Future Changing the World
I have a vision.
As M. L. King had a dream of the true equality of all in America, I have a vision of a society without violence. The time is coming. People everywhere are confused, sometimes despairing, sometimes apathetic, but they resonate to a message of hope. At the threshold of the twenty-first century there is more hope than ever in the whole history of humankind.
As we enter the new century, more and more people are aware of the problems we face. More people than ever are conscious of the mistakes of the past and long for a new and better world. More and more people are dedicated to peace all over the world. More and more women are awakening to their power and throwing off the shackles of patriarchy. We have almost (not entirely) eliminated slavery, and certainly turned the attitudes of society completely against it. We have solved technical problems of disease and feeding and housing multitudes of people. We have seen the ravages of our exploitation of our environment and are learning to repair it and live in a steady-state harmony with nature. New methods of electronic communications are making it possible to become more aware of the problems and to connect better to solve them.
Human psyche has also undergone a tremendous change in the last half of the twentieth century. A spiritual hunger has brought people to search through old traditions and to discover new paths of growth and consciousness. More people than ever in human history are more aware of their history, their environment, their humanness, and that of other people in other cultures. More books are published on subjects of spiritual and psychological health and growth, teachers of these subjects are in demand and more appear every year to share their insights, ad more ad more people are gathering at conferences and festivals, sharing traditions and insights and discoveries.
We have also begun, in a small way still, to solve the problem of violence. We are only now beginning to understand the nature of the problem. Peace does not come when we sign a peace treaty. The causes of war have not been addressed, and it will break out again, as it has again and again through thousands of treaties for six thousand years. The causes of war are rooted in oppression and the ravages oppression makes on the human psyche. Now we understand that peace cannot come until we can find peace in our own hearts and can bring that peace into the hearts of all human beings.
The question, of course, is how to do this.
One key is that we have learned, through all this searching and learning and experimenting, how to bring peace to the hearts of individuals in despite of oppression. All religions have been doing this for centuries. But they have not at the same time addressed the oppressions to eliminate them from our social ways and institutions (and to our dismay our religions often have allied themselves with wealth and power, injustice and inequality), and the force of oppression returns in ever new guises through the centuries to bury us in turmoil and conflict.
If we are to find peace in our hearts we must at least have the hope of freedom. We must understand oppression and be involved in a meaningful but hopefully exciting and joyful engagement in its elimination. A few years ago I was invited to present seminars at a conference on the issues of peace and non-violence. The conference resonated with irony, as it was held at a luxurious new-age resort with all the amenities of the rich, only a few hundred miles from where ethnic cleansing was laying waste ancient peoples in a horrific blood bath.
In the final two days of the conference, the various teachers were to come together to ruminate on peace and non-violence together before the audience of participants. As the elder of that group I allowed the other teachers to speak first. We sat on a raised dais, behind a long table, with name-plates and microphones before each of us. An educator spoke of education for peace, a psychologist spoke of peace through therapy, a social worker spoke of better social programs, a Buddhist roshi said we could meditate our way to peace, and a famous teacher of women's spirituality said if we could just leave it to the women they would fix it all.
When I spoke I said that I found myself in agreement with all the other speakers. But I was left with a sense that the problem of violence in society was much vaster and more complex than we generally credit it to be. Violence is so woven into the fabric of civilization that we don't recognize it unless it is overt and physical. But of course physical violence is only the external manifestation of something that has been brewing internally for some period of time. There are deep inner conflicts in this civilization, and these have been breaking out in wars and grumbling along in crime for six thousand years. We do not notice that conflict and violence is built-in to all our institutions and affect every aspect of our lives from birth to the grave. Conflict arises in people whenever they feel controlled without their consent, when they have no input into the decisions which affect them, and this is the inevitable result of hierarchy, the model of all institutions of civilization. Government, business, education, medicine, we can hardly make a move in life that isn't under the control of some bureaucracy.
Take this very well-intentioned new-age peace conference, I told them. We don't even notice that we have it right here as we talk. Here are the "experts", raised above you, honored with name-plates, and give the power tool of individual microphones. We talk, you listen and take notes. That is hierarchical and oppressive. You also have something to say. Non-violence is an issue for each one of us, and everyone has a pertinent experience and valuable thinking to offer the whole of our community on the subject. Violence is inherent in inequality, and all hierarchy is unequal - a pyramid, with most people on the bottom holding up the few powerful and rich at the top. The antithesis of the pyramid in social forms is the circle, I told them, and for a million years human beings functioned very well with that form. It is the form my elders kept intact and passed on, but they told us it was not exclusive to us, but part of the Original Instructions for all human beings in order to maintain balance and harmony.
Much to their credit, the good people who organized the conference made a new form the next day. They asked me to bring the talking stick I had been using in my seminars, which were all circles, of course, and they had all the participants form a spiral (too many for one circle), with the talking stick beginning in the center and moving through all to the end. Each person who took the stick began with saying something like:
"Now this is more like it. I've been listening for days to teachers and never had a chance to talk. But I have also something to say, and now it feels right that you all can hear me too." And they would usually go on to say something like: "This talking stick and this circle feels right. When I go home from this conference, this is what I will take. I will get my groups into circles and introduce them to the talking stick, and we will start to liberate ourselves and feel our power."
In all the circles I offer to people in many nations and cultures I find the same reaction. People take to it instantly, as though it were familiar, an old dream. As it should be because all our ancestors understood this way when they lived in harmony with the earth and the other creatures and with each other. Many cultures have a myth of a Golden Age of the past where all was beauty and harmony. There is much truth to be found in all myth. I have myself lived and different times among communities who are not so far removed from those times, and I have experienced that beauty and peace and harmony. I know it exists and is the birthright of all our children.
I find great hope in this. Hope is the nurturer of vision, and this brings me back to my vision of a new path to peace, to an end of violence. Since violence has not been present in all societies, and has been greater in some than in others, we may regard relatively peaceful communities as healthy and violent ones as diseased. We need to study the models of health and find cures to this disease.
In curing a disease we study those are healthy and those who have had the disease and thrown it off, we seek to build up anti-bodies to attack the disease, and to prevent it we may vaccinate with transformed disease particles. It seems to me very fitting that the best information, the best study and the best medicine for cure should be found among former criminals who have experienced the whole spectrum of oppression and hurt, perpetrated great violence on themselves and others, and have been cured, have turned their consciousness and psyche and the actions that spring from these back to a condition of health, from violence to peace of mind, from pain and fear and hatred and despair to love and hope and enjoyment of living.
A friend of mine asked me years ago if I thought that my goal of changing thee world and training leaders to effect that change was best served by all the time I was volunteering in the prisons. I thought a lot about that question. Finally I decided that my instincts were right. That was exactly the right place to develop leaders for the future.
Crime, criminal and domestic violence are endemic to this society. To our shame they typify and in some ways symbolize civilization. We may take pride in our lofty philosophy and art, our technological wonders, our advancing knowledge of health and medicine, but we are afraid to walk the streets of our cities at night, we wrestle with our fears when our children are not at home, and the evils of drugs and crime are visiting every family.
To fight the disease of crime I suggest we turn to the experts, the people who have known crime from the inside, who have been criminals and having emerged from that life begun to understand the factors that trapped them. They know the disease intimately, have felt its causes and effects in their own experience, and they have found a cure. It is a cure which can be taught, a cure which they can teach.
In changing the world, the issue of paramount importance to me is peace. There was a time when I was so discouraged with human society and its oppressions that I was ready to give up on it. I saw that human beings were destroying the earth and the rest of the natural world which had no ability to defend itself. If all the human beings were suddenly transported to another planet, the earth would recover and do nicely. The rest of Creation was in harmony here, it was only the human beings that were creating the problem. And the more of them there are the worse it gets. Over-population is no doubt the greatest single danger to life here. So, my thoughtless reactions went, let there be war, let them kill each other off. Maybe enough peaceful people will survive, the indigenous people who want to live in harmony and equality, to protect and care for all life.
But other seekers of peace have made me think about that position and find a new vision. If one sees that peace is not a matter of treaties and agreements among nations, or of deployment of United Nations troops, then one has to see we cannot have peace until there is peace in the hearts of all. And there will not be peace in the hearts of all until we heal not only our individual hurts and wounds, but relieve ourselves of the crushing weight of oppression. All over the world many people have begun, in small ways, to do just this. We need to learn to reach out to each other, to heal each other, and to join with each other to create more just, more human, more loving institutions of equality and flexibility.
I have seen peace grow in the places of darkest rage and violence, in the hearts of those buried in ignorance and despair, hearts that no love had ever touched, no joy had ever lifted, and no beauty ever known. I have see men whom society called monsters and who thought of themselves as monsters, deformed, a cruel mistake of nature, emerge through their pain to find the lost child within that all society had betrayed, and with the love and delight of that child want to end all pain and suffering for all children everywhere.
John F. Kennedy had a vision of peace. He brought it to the youth of America and invited them to service in a Peace Corps. Millions, in whom the hope of peace and justice had not died, responded. I don't profess to know much about that movement. I suspect that like all governmental agencies it labored under burdens of bureaucracy and hierarchy, but despite that it flourished because of the will of people to do good, and it has done much good.
So I also have a vision. I have a vision of a new kind of peace corps, not governmental or political or bureaucratic, but arising from among the oppressed in all cultures and nations. The peacemakers would be the ex-criminals, the ones whose lives have been redeemed through the way of the circle, through equality and respect.
I am seeking leaders. Not to set up hierarchies, but to teach people themselves to be leaders, to take responsibility, to work with each other and solve their problems by putting their minds together. Each time I bring people together in a circle I encourage them to start other circles, to teach the way of the circle. It is easy to teach, because people take to it instantly, understand it deeply. They only have not much experience of the essential ingredients of respect and listening and opening their hearts and minds, but they learn quickly.
I think if there are only two or three in every circle of ten or twenty I teach who then go and bring another group together in a circle and from that circle two or three go out to make other circles, and so on, in a few years we could change the consciousness of the whole world!
A big vision. But big visions start in small ways. Can we end crime and violence in the world? Not if we say it's impossible. Not if we already limit ourselves by believing that violence is normal and we must expect it and meet it with greater violence. If human beings can end the violence and crime they have perpetrated in their own lives and become peaceful, respectful, caring and creative human beings, and they can and have, then they can bring the ways that helped them to others. Instead of hatred and fear and greed and competition and conflict, which grow like a cancer, we can bring to the lives of others respect and love and sharing and cooperation and harmony, which also grows, like a medicine. This is a medicine that once we find we cling to, because all of us would rather have joy and love and fun in our lives than pain and fear and stress.
Yes, I believe I have discovered the best potential leaders for a non-violent society in the most unexpected place.
For your consideration I present my vision: a peace corps of ex-criminals against crime and violence. Maybe it won't work. Probably it won't work in any way we expect it to. Maybe it would only do a very little bit of good - but that's more than is happening now. And the only way you can be absolutely sure that it will not work is never to try it at all.