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The Violence Vaccine


I had the courage. I had the pluck. I did not run away. And therein I feel, if not happy, self-respect.

But on this fine day in June 2016, one week after my first chemo treatment, I sit in a cancer ward in Victoria, British Columbia. Yesterday, as my white blood cell count dropped from the chemotherapy, I took very ill. My fever climbed rapidly and I have an infection that could be life-threatening. So once again I both admit I was a fool, and yet I marvel that I could be such a fool. That as I try to give this death sentence a philosophical spin, turning it over and over to find some nugget of wisdom, or a breakthrough insight about the mind and body – and my god question – I come up rather empty-handed. Except to say that an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure. It is worth the whole shooting match!

There is also the cold fact of dying, of my death. My journey has had its moments when I willingly put my life at risk. Perhaps no more than when I went to meet Joseph Kony deep in the bush in southern Sudan, I knew I might not come back alive and I had left that sealed letter for Ann. What enabled me to put my life on the line was my mission. I was working to free thousands of abducted child soldiers from the horrors I knew they endured, and I was working for peace. My death would have been in the service of a purpose much higher than living my own life. And so it is for thousands of others who work for peace, who stand in harm’s way.

But this death by cancer has no higher purpose. I will simply die without much ado in the eyes of the world. And my death will not benefit anyone.

So I had been bitter about this. That all of my life will end in a whimper, really. Death for no purpose. But then, is this not how the great majority, the thousands who die daily, die? There is no purpose to getting old and frail and one day or night dying. We just do it.

There is purpose in our lives, of course. And some people have the genetic material and good fortune to live to a very ripe old age, enjoying life. And then they die. But at the end of the day there is no purpose in their death. That my death comes far too early for me and my loved ones is a bitter, sorrowful thing, needless to say.

And I see no value in levelling blame at anyone but myself. If I am my brother’s keeper, surely I must be my own keeper too.

And while there is a chapter to my journey that I could write, shrouded in the darkness of death by cancer, I will leave that to others.

What needs to be done now is that which is life-affirming:

·         Refuse to accept that violence is inevitable in human relations;

·         Take actions to eliminate the glorification of violence;

·         Say “No” to illegitimate uses of force;

·         Keep pressure on governments and leaders to intervene in cases of violence;

·         Support society to build skills and mechanisms to prevent violence; and

·         Fight this cancer to live my life as long as I possibly can.


By: Dr. Ben Hoffman, Peace Professional, from his book “The Violence Vaccine”.

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