Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conflicting Concerns - Everyone and Everything

“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form,
perhaps the most common form,
of its innate violence.
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns,
to surrender to too many projects,
to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence . . .
                                                 ~Thomas Merton

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I saw my first knife-fight when I was six years old.  It was Christmas eve, and at my paternal grandparents house this meant drinking, and lots of it.  After several hours of over-indulgence, some minor family squabble had erupted into a serious argument between two of my hot-headed uncles.  At some point a knife appeared and the rumble was on. 

Instead of Red-Nosed Rudolph and red tree lights, I remember the red flashing lights on the police car as it arrived upon the scene. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured; but the holiday was ruined.  This incident was my first introduction to violence.  It made a deep impression, as you might imagine.

Merton asserts that the rush and pressure of modern life are a form of violence.  He could be right.  His viewpoint, however, was undoubtedly colored by the fact that he spent a good deal of his adult life in a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, as a contemplative monk. Not your typical high-risk lifestyle.  He was also a keen intellectual, and at a fairly young age, a published author.

He further states that "to allow oneself to be carried away by a  multitude of conflicting concerns..." can be to succumb to violence.  I don't know that I agree that passively being swept along with the daily tidal wave of concerns rises to the level of violence, but it can certainly be injurious to one's inner peace and tranquillity.

Violence can, of course, take many forms; there is the physical violence of force and injury by one party upon another, the violence of war, the violence of nature, and many others.  One can be said to "do violence" to a text, by twisting it into a meaning not intended by the original author.  Generally any definition of "violence" involves some form of extreme force or pressure.

No doubt about it, conflicting concerns in our lives create pressures.  For example, we want to be peaceable, in fact, the scriptures admonish us to live at peace with all men inasmuch as it "lies within us" - in other words, to the extent that it is within our power to do so.  However, sometimes the "party of the second part" does not reciprocate our peaceable intentions.   Suddenly peace does not reign supreme in our environs.

To "surrender to too many projects" may be another form of self-harm, but I doubt it extends to doing violence to oneself.  It does, however, often produce unhealthy behavior, making us susceptible to from everything from headaches, to insomnia, to damaged relationships.

And then we come to Merton's last assertion in this quote, the desire or inclination to "help everyone in everything" which he says is to succumb to violence.  Again, I am not so sure about violence, but I can aver some pointed humiliation in this area.

I believe he is referring to what some psychologists call the "collapse of appropriate boundaries", when we over extend ourselves.  Good intentions, carried too far, almost always end up in misery, conflict and hurt feelings.  To this I can attest personally, painfully, and recently.  

Calls for help, broken promises and manipulation, red flags all over the place. I had already been "had" two days ago by this same individual, and I suspected at the time that I was being played.  But I went in hoping that a genuine desire to help might prevail upon better selves.  Apparently "B." simply thought I would be an easy target a second time.  However, as they say in the South, "I may be some dumb, but I am not plumb dumb."  

The outcome was a painful reminder, though, that I cannot help "everyone in everything." And if I try, while I may not find myself subject to violence, I most certainly will experience the pain of being on the receiving end of human failure.

Thus, while I may respectfully disagree with Merton's definition of violence in modern life, I can agree with his examples of choices and behaviors which constitute unhealthy risk.  Let this be a lesson to me.
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Our host today is Emily at imperfect prose.


  1. Well, gentle author, let this be a lesson to us all. Undoubtedly his use of the word made sense to him, and I can see a certain interpretation.

    But, don't you think that our first responsibility is to ourselves---to be true to our own views and goals? And, if we do that, we can maintain a clear conscience and set an example for others.

    God bless---and a great post.

  2. There's the word boundaries, another confirmation. Lots to think about here!

  3. hello marsha! i love how you delve deep into this quote, and the honesty of your reflection. i also adored your opening line--it really pulled me in. beautiful post. thanks so much for joining me at imperfect prose today! e.

  4. Great reflection, and interesting passage!

    I agree with everything you say about the Merton piece. And I've also been lured in to too many things--but it's hard when the need is so great. Right now, I'm just trying to get through this novel contract, and then I will reevaluate how to live a balanced life and what changes I must make.

  5. Great post...there were points that spoke so loudly to a situation I am in right now. I have a friend whose divorce ended after 36 years and she is seeing she is she walks it out her counselor is having me read a book with it might not be violence, but the fruit of the co-dependency has causes great harm...once again satan using the gift of being caring to the extreme
    Thanks for the thought provoking post.