Returning to I am they are you….

Last weekend I participated in a two day Theater of the Oppressed workshop, led by Palestinian theater-activist Iman Aoun. In one exercise, we were asked to work in pairs. One person stepped into the role of an individual who had oppressed them. The partner was asked to receive the oppression – not taking on a particular role beyond that. Each person got to play out their oppressor. After doing the physical expression, we then individually wrote down a story of our experiences of being oppressed by the person we role-played. My partner for the exercise commented on how uncomfortable it felt to channel something from inside that allowed her/us to be the person that oppressor. She remarked: “I was having to connect with something inside me to play that role.” Uncomfortable, indeed, to experience the oppressor seemingly alive within ourselves.

Talking about this with a friend, Chris, the other day, I was reminded of my experience of watching the documentary The Interrupters. I wrote about this last year, in two posts: Why don’t we care more? and I am they are you.  I said to Chris (and wrote about in these posts) that when I watched the film, I had a powerful moment of identifying with the potential gun-toting, prone-to-extreme-violence person in me. I spent much of my life carrying large amounts of anger. I manifested (displayed the qualities of) anger and hate frequently in my relationships with my self, others and the collective creative process. Sometimes, it was subtle – the undermining comment, for example- but repetitive (a bit like the infamous Chinese water torture, I imagine). Sometimes it was more obvious – shouting at people. Often, the person I was directing the rage and the fury at was my self. Yet,  I also remember strong urges to physically hurt other people close to me.

I am grateful I didn’t act on those urges; I am aware that I had the potential to do so.

We live – here in the United States where I am currently residing –  in a very violent society. That is to say. We are manifesting violence over and over again. What is violence? An expression of hate, rage, fear, anger, frustration etc. We create violence to defend and protect. We create violence to offend and destroy. What concerns me is that many of us in this violent society watch the violence passively or might go so far as to condemn it, without pausing to see it in our selves. Violence, we easily believe, is something out there done by THEM, those VIOLENT PEOPLE WHO ARE SO DIFFERENT FROM US.  We might see our selves as VICTIMS. How often do we see our selves as PERPETRATORS, too? How often do we acknowledge that the two can and do co-exist within us?

I am they are you.

Have you ever manifested violence? Why? In what forms?

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