What is it about humankind that makes us so prone to war? I can't say I know for sure, but I think I have an idea of where it starts. All violence, all abuse, all addiction and all efforts to establish and maintain an advantage over another human being arise from one very basic and centuries old problem: child abuse.
Years ago, while I was in search of myself, to know the person that I am and to give that person expression, I read many books on the subject of addiction and psychology. The standout authors of that time were Alice Miller, Bob Earll and John Bradshaw. If you're old enough, you know those names from the recovery movement of the 1980s in the United States.
I read The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller and learned how children internalize abuse and identify with the abuser. Then I read For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, and learned how Hitler, a serial killer and an addict were all victims of extreme child abuse. I went on to read more of her books to learn how the most infamous dictators in history arose from child abuse to become leaders who, with political power, imposed the fate of their childhood upon others, especially their fellow citizens.
Decades later, I find myself reading the story of a rebellion in a state of Mexico, where the government could do nothing to stop the cartels from inflicting the damage they do in the towns where they operate. I see a chain of events that brought us here.
Children are abused in America. They find that they have a need that they cannot articulate, they cannot satisfy, as a result of that abuse. So they turn to addiction, usually to drugs, for an escape from the voice, the urge to satisfy that need that they cannot name. To deal with the shame of their childhood fate imposed upon them by their own parents, they may become addicts. Or they may become high achievers or high earners. Why? Shame is the rocket fuel of success. Surrounded by great or small wealth (does it even matter?), still they cannot satisfy the need they cannot name.
Drug trafficking, human trafficking, modern day slavery, corruption, mass shootings, war, and pollution - there's plenty more but those issues come to mind - all of it can be attributed to child abuse.
Children are not born inherently mean. They learn it from someone else, usually their parents. Perhaps they learn it from a sibling or other people, but they learn it from someone else. They are not born to hurt someone else. Children depend on others to survive, and so they only know to ask for what they need. Children must cooperate and negotiate for their life every day. They're born cute and cuddly for a reason.
All attempts to remedy the human suffering in the world will fail until we, as a human race, become willing to address and end child abuse once and for all. Children are not property and they are not pets. Children are human beings who are learning to be like someone else around them. Like the people who raise them.
Yell at your children and they will learn to yell back. Hit your children and they will hit you back. Maybe not when they are small, but later, when you find yourself in a senior home, vulnerable, and defenseless, then the urge may find its way to their hands. They may have no conscious memory of the abuse, but their body will remember. And by then it may be too late. Elder abuse does make the news from time to time, but it is rarely reported.
Adults who abuse children are retelling the story of their own abuse. We may forgive them, for they know not what they do. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop them. In light of what I have learned, I have lost the willingness to be angry at anyone who abuses a child. I have lost the willingness to be angry at any children when they "get out of line". I have compassion for both, the abuser and the child. I know that I must set the example by being the change I want to see.
Someone once said a long time ago, that an unexamined life is not worth living. I have been examining my mind and my life and know myself well. I know that children reflect back at us who we are. If we have not done the work of introspection, to discover who we were as children and what needs we were denied, we will find it difficult to avoid imposing the same fate on our children. We will try everything we can find to meet that need we cannot name, but without knowing that need, our efforts will be in vain. Once we can name that need, then we can begin the task of meeting that need. Or we can begin grieving the loss we suffered at the hands of someone else, so we don't have to do that to our own children.
So when I look at my daughters, I am mindful that they have needs and that they need to learn how to articulate those needs. Rather than trying to instill fear into them, I try to talk with them to find out what they need and provide it to them. I try to teach them to articulate what they need and tell me what it is. I let them know what I can do for them without intimidation, without shaming them. And when I have to say no, I say it with love. I let them know if their request is not appropriate, or not possible. I am not saying I do this perfectly, as I have my own issues, still to be discovered. I am saying:
"For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." -- TS Eliot.
Shame a child into denying to themselves their needs and they will lose their voice. Yell at them or hit them for trying to name that need and the child learns to lie about that need and will find way to meet that need later. Worse, they may find a substitute for that need that doesn't really fill the need. This can happen later as adolescents when they might find drugs, porn or sex as forms of addiction. As adults they can become addicted to money, addicted to the quest to have enough money to be secure in knowing they will never be vulnerable to abuse again. Just ask Wall Street. If they should ever rise to power, they will inflict everything they learned in childhood upon everyone within their reach.
All attempts to solve the problems of human suffering will fail until we decide we want to stop child abuse. There is no other answer to the problem. Once child abuse ceases, peace will be relatively easy to achieve compared to what we are doing now. Cooperation will be seen as normal. There will be no need to assert an advantage over someone else. Why not?
Because when the child abuse ends, worldwide, we will know what the Beatles were telling us so long ago. All you need is love.
To put this discussion in the political context, I see numerous politicians offering solutions, but most of them seem take a symptomatic approach. It doesn't really matter what form of government is instituted. Government is not the problem. People are. In surveying the politicians on the scene, there are only a few who seem to understand that concept. Jill Stein, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. I'm sorry, but neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are not part of the solution.
Jill Stein is running for president as the nominee for the Green Party. She has a clear understanding of the rampant corruption worldwide and, like Bernie Sanders, understands the urgency of the need to remove big money from politics. Jeremy Corbyn is now the leader of the Labour Party in the UK. After seeing one of his speeches, I believe that he too, understand this problem of money in politics and the need to reform government into a utility that helps all of us. The big money in politics is symptomatic of addiction to power and money. How else can we explain it?
At the moment, Bernie Sanders is the one person I'm supporting as a candidate for president. He has the best shot at it other than two "front runners" who have enormous issues to overcome. Sanders has compassion for the Palestinians where the other two do not. He has compassion for our soldiers. He sees health care as a human right. He seems to understand that health care should include mental health care. I think on an intuitive level, he may know that child abuse is at the bottom of all of the human suffering we seek to stop. I hope so.
In the human body, as in all multicellular organisms, every cell cooperates for their mutual survival. If the cells start to seek advantage over one another, then cooperation begins to fail. That's what cancer does. It is the point at which the cells stop cooperating that the body dies. In the same vein, I believe that when the people of the United States stop cooperating, the nation dies. I believe we are approaching that point, but that there is still hope that we can keep it together.
Bernie Sanders is not the last hope. But he's a great start to solving the problem of creating a sustainable peace in our country and the world. He knows that this goal will require an enormous amount of effort and cooperation. That's why he's called for many people to run for office, any office, local, state and federal, to help him effect this change. At last count, more than 12,000 people have heeded his call.
There is more to life than accumulating wealth and power. There must be a greater purpose. Until we end child abuse, it may remain much harder for succeeding generations to find out what that purpose is.
Every genius that has walked among us knows this. Albert Einstein says, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Stephen Hawking says that greed, stupidity and pollution are the greatest threats to earth. Carl Sagan said that, "Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception." These are signs that humans are unable to cooperate. I believe that all failures to achieve mutual cooperation can be traced back to child abuse.
We must find a way to cooperate for our mutual survival. The alternative is pretty grim. Stopping child abuse is probably the best chance we have as a species to survive. I hope that our next president understands this.