Succumbing to Violence

“…there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist…easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow one’s self to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit one’s self to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.”

     Violence is not a word that comes to mind readily when I think of “activism and overwork,” “demands,” “projects,” and the desire to help those who seek my assistance.

When I think ‘violence’ I think bodily injury, not the other harmful manifestations that can result from over-extending ourselves. But as peace activist Douglas Steere points out, there is an innate form of violence in the “rush and pressure of modern life” where there is always so much to do, and so little time in which to do it. Steere knows that the damaging effect of doing too much too often for too many can be injurious not only to our body, but to our emotional, mental, and spiritual health as well.

     Another who was no stranger to the ill effects of taking on too much was St. Ignatious of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits); it was he who coined the phrase “temptation under the guise of good.” Like ‘violence’ in relation to the price we pay for doing too much, ‘temptation’ may seem an odd word when it comes to the willingness to do good. After all, isn’t temptation the impulse to do something considered wrong? But Ignatious knew that it’s possible to do too much of a good thing, and that succumbing to this inclination could be harmful to our soul.

     Although the impulse “to help everyone in everything” can be a symptom of co-dependence, a way to win the approval of others, and a means to assuage guilt, it most often arises from a genuine desire to serve, and to make the world a better place. It is our good intentions that make doing too much so tempting, and that makes resisting this type of temptation so difficult.

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