Disarming Oblivion

[Note: This is a re-write of an old blog post, there are some changes]

When I hear of serial killers and other violent criminals, I ponder the origin and motivation of what creates an individual as I do believe that violence is 98% nurture and only in some cases is it nature. This is not to say that there are some people who neurologically are wired as predators but we are very often shown the extreme and I believe that we dull ourselves, labeling all of them as ‘evil’ as a shortcut. This also does not excuse the violent and absolve them of their actions. I think though that in many cases of assaults, rapes, molestation, and murder that the perpetrator is run through a situation which sends them to a sort of oblivion. It not only happens to the assailant but to the assailed. I have known of rape and assault victims that have sent themselves to another place in order to survive the ordeal.

I think in some sense, in order to survive the insensitivities of any level of cruel culture we all send ourselves into oblivion. We put up walls and shut down emotions, we act out in order to root out the demon in the shadows or keep everyone at a distance. Once someone has sent themselves to oblivion it is tough to reach them. What is this oblivion?

I believe that this oblivion is an aspect of that in-group parity / out-group hostility that we create in order to move through life. Our belonging and connection is so transient for so many of us. We send ourselves to oblivion when we reach a distressing time and want to keep other human beings at arm’s length or a greater distance. It is also easier to send distant others to oblivion. It becomes easier to drink that coke, use an iPhone, wear clothes bought at Banana Republic, or shop at Wal-Mart if we do not think of the individuals whose lives are wrapped in the unethical business practices of the aforementioned companies.

How do we disarm the oblivion so many create? Personalities are so dynamic it is nearly impossible to apply one sure formula. I would cite two moments that came up while watching television with my mother. (Yes, not found by way of retreats with gurus. Sometimes it is discovered through more mundane means. Bear with me.)

The first illustrated a great example of completely obliterating oblivion was of a murdered, pregnant single mom. Her murderer was the father of her son and unborn child. He was married, but not to this woman. Somehow he created a justification in his own oblivion that said it was better to murder this woman than to double child support and increase anger from his wife for his infidelity. Somehow he made it okay. This woman he had fathered a child with and created another potential child had now become an obstacle to eliminate, a member of the out-group.

When he was convicted, the murdered woman’s best friend spoke at his sentencing and said something to the extent of ‘she was such a great person, this is the mother of your son, I hope you fry…’ and he was stone faced; unphased. Then the murdered woman’s mother stood up and said (at least as well as I can remember) ‘I will be raising your son. This child witnessed the murder of his mother by his father and will never forget that. I wish I could keep that from him but I can’t. I will still raise this child with love and affection and I must forgive you because I believe in a forgiving god and I want to live in the same light as that forgiveness…’ Now, I generally tune out Christian rants but I’ve heard this heartfelt cry to find a way to forgive those who have wronged the forgiver and it does touch me. It also touched the murderer. As much as people hurled hate and disgust at this man, he did not budge, showed no remorse, no emotion. The moment this woman talked about a tortured son and a want to emulate a forgiving god, a tear streamed down this man’s face and he seemed very shaken. He had created his own safe oblivion, but this woman reached him for at least a moment.

The second circumstance was in the spirit of Memorial Day. A story of a man who while in Vietnam during the war was face to face with an enemy soldier and only by luck was able to shoot first. After killing this man he discovered a photograph of this soldier with his young daughter. In a moment this ‘enemy’ this killer demon became a father a member of a family, someone who was likely loved. The soldier went from safe oblivion to cold reality. Urgency of course took him right back to oblivion as he was in the midst of a battle, but he kept the photo. He kept it for thirty years and since he was no longer surviving on the front lines, oblivion was harder to reach. Thirty years later, after going through a process of trying to reach closure in his experience, the vet decided he had to return the photo to the dead soldier’s daughter. Through contacting first the consulate and then a newspaper in Vietnam, they found the daughter and he traveled to return the photo in person. They both sobbed once in the presence of one another; neither person an obscure abstraction any longer, but a real emotional human being.

These cases are ones wherein a person chooses an extreme oblivion for an extreme act and yet someone or something still reaches them, their oblivion is disarmed. I think it is possible and have experienced that moment where I have successfully brought someone out of their oblivion and reached them. It tends to be a moment where the other person is ready for a fight and wants an enemy. When I approach them as a friendly, when I try to keep them in my in-group I am more often successful at reaching them. Not always.

I started life with a need to be martial; doing things in the manner of a follower of Mars, god of war. I was martial in my conversation and trained to be martial in my physicality. So I recognize that I too sent self and others to oblivion in order to survive my environment. I began to recognize it as a teen and have slowly broken down the walls of oblivion in order to reach others, they’re not all gone but I’m working on it. Relationally, I was exposed first to EST, then Buddhism, then some varying pop-psyche books and some very wise human beings. Martially it was hard knocks, then Okinawan Shorin Ryu, then Judo, then Aikido. Aikido allowed me to understand that sending the other to oblivion physically wasn’t necessary and that clinging to the ego and self can in some ways destroy more than create. What was unexpected was that it would send me back to Buddhism and liberate me from the need to follow Mars anymore.

Finally, a book by a man who worked in super-max prisons completed the seal on the coffin for Mars. It detailed and broke down violence, where it is avoidable, where we will never be able to prepare for it, and how neurologically we draw ourselves into it when it is wholly unnecessary.  98% of the time control of self lies within self but very often our fears and our ego blind us to that.

It seems that this is the new non-martial art that I attempt to master. I am in no way near mastery, but I’ve tasted enough success that I want to work toward greater success. To truly remove fear is to disarm oblivion to break down the otherness of the out-group and reach the human being; it is a powerful thing and I seek to enable it.

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