by Troy Chapman
There is a curtain that stands between me and any violence I might do to others. This curtain is my own integrity and in order to violate any lifeform I must first tear a hole in the fabric of my own wholeness. There is no other way to accomplish violence. One cannot go under, over or around the curtain, but only through it.
We know that violence done to us tears the fabric of our integrity, but we haven’t yet come to the other side of this truth: that violence done by us has the same effect.
I’m not talking about karma or anything like that here, where eventually our actions will come back around to us. The harm done to our own integrity must be done before we can do violence to others, because all violence in the world is done through the curtain of our own integrity. If we understand that violence is “any assault on or violation of integrity in the world around us,” we begin to see the seriousness of what I’m saying here.
Is vicious gossip an assault on someone’s integrity? If so, it is violence and if it’s violence I must tear a hole in the fabric of my own integrity in order to do it. This is true also of ill-will, apathy, mean-spiritedness. Of any act of belittlement or slighting of another, of any disrespect. Something as seemingly insignificant as littering is an assault on the integrity of the ecosystem. As such it is a form of violence. So we not only have to roll down our car window to throw out garbage, we also have to punch a hole in our own integrity.
Integrity is all around us. There’s personal integrity, community integrity, ecological or natural integrity, and the integrity of life itself. Our common definition of violence covers only assaults on the physical integrity of people. But if we ever want to get out of the cycles of violence and sickness that we’re caught in, we must expand this definition as I’ve done above to include any assault on integrity in our world.
One part of us knows this already. To tell a child he or she is stupid and won’t amount to anything is an act of violence, though no physical harm is done. It’s violence to treat people with contempt or to abuse those over whom we have power; to reduce people economically, to impoverish them so we can take more than we need.
By this standard our world is saturated in violence and we may be tempted to say the standard is too high, but is it? Or is our current woefully inadequate definition of violence just a game we’re playing with the truth so we don’t have to look at this truth head-on?
If so, it’s a game we’re playing with our own lives and with our own well-being. It’s a game based on the utterly self-destructive falsehood that we can do violence without harming ourselves. Once we understand the truth that all violence shreds our own integrity, we want out of this game. We want to identify all violence clearly and step away from it.
Wholeness is one cloth. Integrity in us and integrity in the world around us are two folds in this single cloth. There’s no such thing as “my wholeness” and “your wholeness,” “my soundness and well-being” as distinct from “your soundness and well-being.” These things are bound up together and when we serve one we serve the other one. Undermine one and we undermine the other.
And all things fall into these two categories: they either serve integrity or they undermine it. If I want to be well and a light in the world, I must remember that the curtain of my own integrity stands between me and the world, and only that which serves integrity can pass through this curtain without tearing it. I must remember that all things done by the self are done first to the self.
Drawing by Troy Chapman