Excerpted from THE ART OF WAGING PEACE: A Strategic Approach to Improving Our Lives and the World by Paul K. Chappell ($21, Prospecta Press)
When I broke the window in my apartment with my fist, the pain gave me so much pleasure that it is difficult to describe. It reminded me of the times I used to cut my arms in high school. Imagine feeling suffocating agony and not being able to cry or even scream. As the misery gets bottled up inside you, like a clogged pipe ready to explode, cutting yourself temporarily releases the tension that is strangling you on the inside. As the blood flowed from my wounds, it felt like the pain was dripping out of my body.
I broke the window because I missed a small typo when proofreading. I had read the words numerous times without seeing the mistake, and when I finally noticed it my temper erupted. When we are lost in the mazelike tunnels of our psychological wounds, it is like seeing the world through the distorted reflection of a fun-house mirror. Just as a fun-house mirror can exaggerate the size of our heads in relation to the rest of our bodies, trauma can blow something small out of proportion, causing us to see something harmless as a lethal threat. As a child I was often beaten for making small mistakes. Enraged at myself for missing the typo, my self-loathing caused me to explode. When I punched the window I wanted to hurt myself as much as I wanted to damage the glass. After the effects of berserker rage wore off and I calmed down, I was brought back to reality. My hand started to hurt, and because injuring myself did not deal with the source of my suffering, I knew that self-destruction cannot lead to peace.
So far in my adult life I have not assaulted anyone, and in Peaceful Revolution I explain how discipline has helped me control my rage. I am writing about berserker rage not to excuse the violent actions of those who go berserk, but to help us understand the causes and consequences of the berserker mindset. Only by exploring the nature of rage can we develop techniques to heal it.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist Victor Frankl says we should not excuse people’s crimes, but hold them accountable for their actions and help them change for the better through rehabilitation. Frankl says attributing violent crime entirely to someone’s circumstances is “tantamount to explaining away his or her guilt and to seeing in him or her not a free and responsible human being but a machine to be repaired. Even criminals themselves abhor this treatment and prefer to be held responsible for their deeds . . . When I addressed the prisoners in San Quentin, I told them that ‘you are human beings like me, and as such you were free to commit a crime, to become guilty. Now, however, you are responsible for overcoming guilt by rising above it, by growing beyond yourselves, by changing for the better.’”
I am sharing deeply personal information about myself not only to illustrate the ideas in this book, but to also help remove the taboos around trauma that prevent us from healing the violent behavior in our society. We must not be ashamed or afraid to discuss the underlying causes of violence, because that is where the truth can be found. Just as doctors understand illness, we must also understand violence. We must have terms and metaphors that give us the means to truly talk about violence and its causes, and we must be empowered with the tools to help each other. Like all people dealing with trauma I have good days and bad. Pursuing spiritual change allows us to have more good days than bad.
Many years ago the siren song of rage promised to protect me. For a long time I believed it, but then something odd happened. As the years passed I became more afraid of my own rage than I was of other people. I had been relying on a desperate Hail Mary pass, which should only be used as a last resort in the most extreme situations, as a way of keeping myself safe. But this was a dangerous way to live. How could I convince my rage that I no longer needed its protection? How could I transform the siren song of rage into a melody of peace? If I wanted to survive I would have to find a way, and that is why I developed a system of waging peace I call the infinite shield. I developed it not just to protect me from other people, but to also protect them from me.
Paul K. Chappell graduated from West Point in 2002, was deployed to Iraq, and left active duty in November 2009 as a Captain. He is the author of the Road to Peace series, a seven-book series about waging peace, ending war, the art of living, and what it means to be human. The first four published books in this series are Will War Ever End?, The End of War, Peaceful Revolution, and The Art of Waging Peace. Chappell serves as the Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Lecturing across the country and internationally, he also teaches college courses and workshops on Peace Leadership. He grew up in Alabama, the son of a half-black and half-white father who fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and a Korean mother. His website is www.peacefulrevolution.com