A History of Violence
Why we must be aware of how we got here to continue moving forward.
When life first arose on this planet, resources were in abundance and all life was able to consume what they needed for survival and reproduction without having to compete with another organism for it. Life is like water though, it will expand to fill every niche it can find until a balance between proliferation of life and consumption of resources is found. This concept is what drove life to expand until the resources any one species required was in short enough supply to drive Darwin's tenets of evolution. When there is a selective pressure such as limited resources, variation in individuals, and heredity of traits, evolution begins to act on a species to ensure it becomes better and better at attaining the resources it needs. Competition is inherent in this equation, and seemingly inescapable.
It is important to remember that variation is the key to success in these matters, and that the selective pressures simply decide the fitness of each one. Although some species have shown the ability to work together to overcome difficulties they couldn't alone, most of the animal kingdom displays aggression and violence between individuals to obtain what they need.
This means that aggression and violence is not only "human nature," but a real part of life for many species. In our search for ways to grow into something beyond what our past has shaped us to be, we must be aware of how deeply ingrained these tendencies are if we stand any chance of overcoming them. Let's move millions of years through evolution to the birth of man, when the variations of great apes initially made them more like us than each other. There were many species of hominid before Homo Sapiens reigned supreme, and more than just the neanderthals you were taught of in school.
We came to be the dominant hominid through many factors, such as disease, interbreeding, and adaptability to a changing climate. The one factor that can't be ignored is that Homo Sapiens were more cunning, better with tools, and more aggressive than what we know of most other species. This trait served us long after we became the species of majority as well. Our history is littered with acts of atrocity, genocide, and a blatant disregard for all human life that didn't share our viewpoint or beliefs. Think back to your favourite time period from history class, and I almost guarantee that it was highlighted by at least one war or expansion of an empire. Until China claimed the land as their own, Tibet was the only nation recognised to never having taken part in a war. The ideologies that drove these empirical expansions, and those that were extinguished as a result is a topic for later discussion. The only important aspect to hold onto for this discussion is that every single one of us has a history of violence that dates back to the earliest forms of life, and we haven't shaken free of that past yet.
You don't have to be very familiar with Buddha's teachings to know that the path to enlightenment is through harmony and compassion, which means that we all have a lot of inherited tendencies to shed in order to reach it. It isn't something to be ashamed of though. There is nothing we can do to change our own past, let alone what was done generations ago. We can decide to live another way though. Recognise that the similarities we share with all forms of life greatly outweighs our differences, and show love and compassion for them all as they struggle through their own experiences of life. While our own evolutionary journey included multiple chapters focusing on aggression and violence, the animal kingdom is also full of examples of life that has flourished by becoming more and more cooperative with each other and even different species.
Synergy is a word that is thrown around a lot in the business world these days, and for good reason! People are able to accomplish more when working together cooperatively for a common goal than they are if they are fighting each other individually over it. John Nash uncovered this truth as documented in the movie A Beautiful Mind.
Don't be disheartened in the moments where you are implored to beat someone to a common goal, but become aware of it and ask yourself if you might be able to attain more if you were to work together at it. You're rewiring millions of years of training, but I believe that the only sure way to a better way of living is to overcome it. Let go of your past and embrace the brave new future.