The human nature of violence

OPINION Aug 02, 2018 by Jeff Morris Hamilton Spectator

We've encountered troubling violence in the City of Toronto twice this year. First the van attack which killed 10, and injured 16, and now the Danforth shooting, which killed 2 and injured 13.

Violence is not new to any of us; in fact, it surrounds us on a daily basis. Some read about it the newspapers, and watch it on television, while others (have mercy, O God) live with it in their own homes. But events like the ones in Toronto this year do magnify our sensibilities and force us to ask the question — Is there a solution to such atrocities, or are humans inherently violent?

We don't have to do much research to come up with part of the answer, because we all exist as human, and as such, may be considered experts on the matter of what it means to live as one. We may never have performed an act of violence to another human being, but do careless and inexcusable thoughts not cross our own minds? A moment of hatred, though not necessarily outward, is exactly what leads to violent acts. And when these thoughts do cross our minds, is it not, more often than not, something of an impulse? If we evolved so precisely, why do these (somewhat involuntary) ideas still plague us?

In a postmodern society like ours, we tend to ignore the intrinsic facts of life, because we've been taught that truth is relative and therefore, there are no hereditary facts, but for me to ignore my own inexcusable nature is precisely the problem.

I heard a preacher once say that we no longer consider the absolute in relation to our own behaviour, but are more than willing to suddenly invoke it to judge the behaviour of others. When a heinous act of violence is committed we all agree — the act of that person was unequivocally immoral. God or no God, evolution or not, mass murders are wrong. Although it's true that murder is inexcusable, this fact alone will not help us, because if we don't consider that the absolute also applies to our own lives we inevitably excuse ourselves. Let's face it, who wants to admit that they're as broken as the next person. But, the absolute truth is that we're all, in one sense or another, guilty.

We all need help to change how we perceive not only others, but even ourselves. Some people carry around so much guilt and hate for themselves that they hurt others, and this is as much a problem as anything. In a pluralistic culture it's easy to get lost in a sea of relativism, and rely on the law to inform our actions, but you can't legislate the absolute, and you can't legislate love.

Does this admittance, that violence and hate are intrinsic to the human nature mean that we all constantly go around hating each other? Of course not. Life is far more subtle, and extremes are rarely a safe road to travel. We can love each other, but it takes careful self-reflection, a lot of effort, and most importantly, a desire to understand the absolute truth.

It used to be that children recited the Lord's Prayer in schools. What those kids learned from that prayer is that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the punishment for our hateful thoughts, and that believing this will change our hearts because he showed love to us, even when we were completely unlovable. To love people when they are lovable is not love at all, but it takes great effort to love someone who we find deplorable, because we unexpectedly have to fight against our instinct to hate. And how often does hate not win us over in these situations.

Believe it or not, the crucifixion is the most potent example of love ever told, and one which really has changed the hearts of millions. Think about it, Jesus did no wrong, and they murdered him, and while he hung on the cross he said "Father, forgive them."

I'm sorrowful for the violence that's happened in Toronto this year, for the victims, families, and perpetrators. I'm also sorry for my own selfish behaviour, and hope for a new heart.

Jeff Morris is a writer who was born and raised in Hamilton. His debut novel, a moment in time, will be released in Fall 2018.

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