Down through the ages we have been plagued by the constant specter of violence. It has been an ever-present part of our history, and it has played a tremendous role in shaping the world into the troubled place that it is today. We study all the great wars in school. We are taught about the violent struggles of various groups of people to achieve freedom. We learn the heartbreaking stories of great men who have been assassinated even though they represented peace and love. However, we never stop to think about why the world was, and still is, such a violent place filled with hatred, intolerance and disrespect.

While there is nothing we can do about our past, there is much we can do to stem the tide of violence that permeates the world today, and there are significant steps we can take towards making life more peaceful in the future. Curbing violence around the world involves more than just banning weapons and downsizing armies. It is more than creating stricter laws and enforcing harsher penalties. Reducing violence requires a major shift in our thinking as a species. It demands the use of our intelligence in place of relying on our base instincts. It means that we have to carefully control our emotions and not let our feelings become inflamed without reason. It means we have to accept reality instead of our distorted beliefs and prejudices.

One of the first steps to controlling violence is to realize the equality of all human beings. Much of the horror of the past has been aimed at ethnic groups who we felt superior to or who we considered to be a threat. By dehumanizing a group we felt much more comfortable inflicting pain and suffering on unimaginable scales. Sadly, this tendency has carried forward into the present. Many ethnic groups around the world refuse to live together in peace. In the worst cases genocide breaks out and tens of thousands, including women and children, are slaughtered simply because of who they are. To kill someone because of the color of their skin, or where they happened to be born, or because their religious beliefs and political views are different than yours is a form of mass insanity.

Unfortunately, violence is typically aimed at the most vulnerable. That is why women and children are so often targeted since they are physically able to put up the least resistance. Women, in particular, have suffered horrifically down through the centuries at the hands of men who have refused to see them as equal human beings. They have been treated as property. They have been stripped of their human rights. They have not even had control of their own bodies. Men have lorded over every aspect of their lives controlling them and abusing them and that same shameful tendency is still prevalent in certain parts of the world today. It is disgraceful that half of the human race is treated so badly that they are often driven into deprivation without any opportunity to improve their lives or those of their families. Gender based violence must be eliminated if we are to ever have a world without extreme poverty.

Violence and hate are inseparable; they have been linked together throughout history. Hate is the most irrational of all emotions, and, unfortunately, it is something we learn by example. There is no reason for the human race to be filled with hate. It serves no useful purpose. Hatred creates nothing but pain and misery for all involved. It solves nothing. It improves nothing, and much too often it leads to violence. Hate should be eliminated from our thought and certainly from our actions. It has no place in a world that is growing smaller by the minute. Why should our sworn enemy now become our trusted ally later – but only after a war filled with bloodshed? Why not eliminate the need for armed conflict and simply find a peaceful way to co-exist without the desire to harm each other?

Violence is not always obvious or blatant; it can also be insidious in the form of poverty. When human beings are forced to live in filth and degradation, through no fault of their own, it is a type of violence against not only their physical health but also against their mental and emotional well-being. Poverty robs them of their dignity and their ability to care for themselves and their loved ones. It increases their suffering in every way. It traps them in a life of pain and desperation from which they cannot escape, and it leaves them without hope. No one should be forced to live this way, particularly innocent children.

We must understand that violence does not always occur at the point of a gun. It happens when funding is cut to a program that provides vaccines or when food shipments are curtailed to areas ravaged by hunger. It happens when pharmaceutical companies refuse to produce life saving drugs at affordable prices and when governments crack down on basic human rights. It happens when world leaders lack the courage and vision to intervene on behalf of an ethnic group being terrorized and massacred by another. It happens when we hide inside our comfortable lives and refuse to see the heartbreaking results of our own selfishness and cynicism. It happens every time we turn away and ignore the body count that grows by the hour as the result of extreme poverty.

It is sometimes claimed that it is in our nature to be violent. This assertion is used as an excuse for why we can’t curb our tendency to resort to physical harm when we disagree with someone or when we are fearful of others. But upon closer examination that theory does not hold up. What is true about violence is that it is the easy way out. We find it far easier to either control or eliminate those whom we hate or fear rather than to work through our problems and try to reach a compromise and an equitable understanding that benefits both sides and allows each to maintain their rights and freedoms. Following our impulse to physically assault those we have conflict with leaves poverty in its wake, and it is the innocent, who we had no quarrel with, that suffer the results of our unwillingness to use our intelligence instead of force to solve our problems.

The massive scale and continuing growth of extreme poverty is a direct result of the violence that mankind perpetrates day after day. Until we come to grips with our inability to see the results of our actions on the helpless we will continue to wage war and create refugees. We will continue to abuse human rights and take advantage of those who have a limited ability to defend themselves and we will continue to let hate consume us, leading us to kill those that we will not take the time and effort to understand.

Violence has never solved a problem. It has never fed a child. It has never vaccinated an infant. It has never saved a mother’s life during child-birth. It has never contributed in any meaningful way to improving life on this planet, and yet it is the path that so many choose to take. For those of us who know that it is a fool’s journey to follow hate and bigotry, we must take a stand against the tyranny and injustice that violence produces. We must take a stand against the hopelessness and fear that overcomes its victims. We must take a stand against the coward who raises his fist in rage – who swings a machete in contempt and who hides behind the barrel of a gun.



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