Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters


Violence is Everywhere … Or is It?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

the_better_angels_coverI had the privilege of seeing Steven Pinker talk at the University of Vermont the other day. Pinker is the author of How The Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Language Instinct, The Stuff of Thought, and most recently, The Better Angels of Our Nature. He spoke about the history of violence. Here is the advance description of his talk:

Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new talk, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows audiences how all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This was a fascinating and illuminating talk. With unequivocal data, Pinker shows that all forms of violence are in decline over the centuries. Why does it seem, then, that violence is everywhere? One reason is media. The media reports on violent events disproportionately. If all the violence in the new was counterbalanced by all the good things happening around the world, things would seem less dire. Another reason is again media. The immediacy and availability of media brings these events to our eyeballs in powerful fashion and by doing so distorts our sense of their frequency.

Another reason is our psychology. Recent events tend to make big impressions upon us while remote events fade into oblivion. We don’t have the context to appreciate how brutal it was to live in the middle ages and certainly there is no shortage of horrific events occurring around the world right now.

Pinker referred to the seeming certainty that the world would not survive the cold war. I can certainly remember thinking in college that we would never live to the year 2000; that nuclear Armageddon was not a question of whether but when. But here we still are.

What accounts for the lessening of violence over the centuries? One big reason is the civilizing process. We have become more law abiding, have recognized the rights of oppressed groups, and so forth. Another reason is connectivity. The cost of violence in an interconnected world are higher. It behooves everyone to be more civil.

Of course, things could change in an instant, but for now we have a relative peace. I would be interested to see how the decline in violence correlates with the rise of Buddhism in the west. And while the trend Pinker presents is encouraging, we still have a lot more work to do.

The Buddha’s teaching embrace both civilizing (do what is good for yourself and others) and connecting. They recognize, we are interconnected and that violence to other is violence to self.

Pinker’s message gives us something to be hopeful about.

Watch Steven Pinker with Charlie Rose:

YouTube Preview Image


Previous Posts

Drive by Shooting: Mindfulness on NPR
It's not surprising when a feature on mindfulness appears in a major media outlet. Mindfulness is popular. This time it is a sub-four minute interview on NPR. Tamara Keith spoke with Sharon Salzberg, one of the co-

posted 6:25:54pm Jul. 22, 2014 | read full post »

No More Fooling Around: Changing the World Through Mindfulness
Today I will start a series of posts about how we can change the world through mindfulness and the wisdom of the Buddha's teachings. This transformation starts with individuals and progresses through groups, corporations, and then societies. Ultimately, a global movement is possible and will be acco

posted 10:47:16am Jul. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Mindfulness for Introverts
Mindfulness is a natural fit for introverts. The act of meditation itself is an introverted activity and at the same time equips introverts to navigate their interior without getting stuck in rumination. I recently wrote an essay for the Kripalu Thrive blog entitled Mindfulness for Introverts.

posted 3:26:51pm Jul. 08, 2014 | read full post »

The transformative power of mindfulness . . .
As I mentioned last week, there is a special learning opportunity upcoming with Jack Kornfield. I hope you got a chance to look at his videos. Registration is now open to take advantage of studying mindfulness with one of the most beloved American teachers. When it comes to creating real, lasting

posted 11:28:48am Jun. 17, 2014 | read full post »

7 Contemplations for Realizing the Spiritual Introvert Edge (for introverts AND extroverts)
Spirituality Defined “Spiritual but not religious” is a popular designation. What does it mean to be spiritual? There may be as many definitions of spirituality as spiritual people. Everyone puts their unique imprint on what it is to be a spiritual person. These definitions range from religious

posted 1:58:09pm Jun. 15, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.