Most of us make an effort to be honest, play by the rules, teach the children in our lives the difference between right and wrong—and also to mind our own business. We became immune to the negative and violent news that every day pours out of our TVs, computers, and devices. Most of the time we don’t even fully engage with this information flood—but sometimes we might catch a familiar name and, if we’re open enough to observe it, realize that our bodies are responding with some kind of sensation.
Sometimes there may be breaking news, in which we hear of yet another mass shooting at a school. Usually, we’ll pause for a moment and ask sadly familiar questions: Who did that? Where does this kind of evil come from? Who is responsible for this massacre? Not many of us, though, will ask, How did I contribute to this? We are not accustomed to thinking this way.
Instead we are used to viewing ourselves as separate from others, which in turn makes us feel entitled to judge those who commit crimes and acts of violence—to judge and demand changes from those who were supposed to have protected us and our children, and who failed.
I have explored in another article the idea of taking responsibility in this context, which can seem a foreign concept. The Pathwork, a philosophy that complements and informs Core Energetics, states that evil “results from numbness and confusion about the execution of control”. A Pathwork lecture on The Concept of Evil says that children who feel hurt, rejected and exposed to pain and deprivation typically learn to numb their feelings in order to protect themselves from suffering.
The same is true for children exposed to a lot of conflict. The inability to process contradictory emotions and reactions leads to extraordinary pain that can be soothed significantly by dulling their feelings—but thereby also numbing impulses and spontaneity of responses and reactions; that is, numbing their very life force itself.
This defense becomes a valid protection for the child’s sanity (and depending on the circumstances, sometimes even her very life). But when this numbing mechanism becomes the person’s second nature, persisting long after the circumstances have changed and she is no longer is a helpless child, the molecular roots of evil take seed. Numbness to one’s own pain equals numbness and insensitivity to the pain of the other.
Looking closely at childhood development and behaviors, we can see that our first truly spontaneous reactions to other human beings tend to be compassion and empathy. But soon enough, some inner switch forms, that sends a different message: No, to connection, to vulnerability. Some layer of inner protective insensitivity has been created. This is a place where we separate from others—safe, but separate.
The numbness created to protect oneself spreads towards others. We can look at numbness on a spectrum. On one end, we are dealing with numbness towards one’s self, as a protective device. Midway along the spectrum, there is the numbness towards others that enables us to watch others suffer without experiencing extreme discomfort. On the other end of the spectrum, there is an active violence that accrues from fear of others or inability to deal with chronically pent-up anger.
Clearly all three of the states are harmful towards an individual and others in different ways. But here I would like to highlight the middle state—passive indifference. Even though, at the first glance, indifference seems not as harmful as active violence, I believe it causes as much harm over time. As the Pathwork says, “Passive indifference…born of numbing the feelings, can go unnoticed because it can so easily be camouflaged. It permits the person to follow the most selfish impulses without open detection”.
How does this work, then? How can such highly developed societies as the United States struggle with so much violence? Do we, as individuals have the power to change this, and if so, how?
Spiritual emptiness, a materialistic approach to life, and pervasive competitive attitudes create increasing isolation in our lives. Addicted to the newest achievements in technology, we surround ourselves with the latest gadgets, excited about how our new world seems to have gotten “smaller”, how everything and everyone now seems closer, with everything available all at our fingertips.
Yet we have not noticed that, slowly but surely, we are drifting away from each other—as well as from our own selves. Human contact and actual relationship is being replaced by virtual presence.
I am not about to suggest that we should give up the amazing technologies available to us these days. What I am saying is this:
Let’s use technology wisely. Technology is inherently by no means a cause of evil or separation, but we can use it as an excuse to further our Lower Self tendencies to separate.
I believe we need a new dose of awareness to reverse this process of self-isolation ourselves and consciously focus our presence in relationships—including, perhaps first and foremost, in the relationship we create with ourselves—to be grounded in the moment and be conscious of the kind of life and world we want to create.