Teens take political action

17-year-old Kansas governor candidate Tyler Ruzich speaks at a high school with three other teenage hopefuls for the state's top elected position

With loose khaki pants, a button-down shirt and a dark blue blazer, Tyler Ruzich looks a lot like any number of aspiring politicians before him.

But if the election Ruzich is running in were to be held today, he’d be too young to vote for himself.

The 17-year-old is one of five teens throwing their hats in the crowded ring for next year’s governor’s race in Kansas, which has permissive rules about who can run for the state’s top elected post.

Speaking recently to a crowd of students at a high school gym in the city of Lawrence, Ruzich picked up a microphone and launched into his campaign speech.

“It’s pretty clear that our politicians have neglected us,” Ruzich said, competing to be heard over the clangs of a nearby weightlifting room.

(Excerpt from an article in The Daily Mail. Read more)

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Teens Being Teased: Karen’s Story

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By Joseph Langen

Karen didn’t think much about herself one way or another when she was younger. In middle school she decided she was okay and gave it no more thought. Now she wonders what’s wrong with her. The problem started when a few girls in her class teased her. Then some boys started teasing her too. She became convinced that something must be wrong with her.

She couldn’t figure out why they were teasing her. Her body had more curves now than it did before, but she didn’t have a wart on her nose or smell weird. When she walked with her friends at school, nobody bothered her. When she was alone, a group of girls would look at her as if a dog threw up on her. If they said anything to her it was how awful her blouse looked, how old fashioned her shoes were, or that her hair looked like a rat’s nest.

After this started to happen she spent a good amount of time before school looking at herself in the mirror to see if anything was out of place. As far as she could see, she wore the same clothes as everybody else. She still had the same hairstyle as before they started teasing her. What else could it be?

She didn’t want her parents to worry about her so she said nothing about it to them. She tried to pretend everything was okay. Her mother looked at her with her head cocked to one side. She always did this when she knew there was something Karen was hiding.

Karen was embarrassed to tell her friends about what the girls did, and now the boys. They would probably think she was crazy. Her friends still joked with her, shared their secrets and listened to hers. Maybe she was being too sensitive and just needed to wait until the whole thing blew over.

She decided to ride it out but more and more girls and also boys kept up their mean comments. She had never been mean to anyone and couldn’t make any sense of it. One day during recess, she found herself alone in the lav sitting on the toilet with her head in her hands and her eyes welling up with tears.

Thinking back over her misery that night while trying to get to sleep, she realized she had to do something. She wanted to handle it herself but that wasn’t working out very well. Her best friend Jen was a good listener and might have some ideas for her. At least it would feel good to get it off her chest.

The next day after English class, she asked Jen if she could come over to her house after school. Jen agreed. Up in her room with the door closed, Karen just sat for a few minutes without saying anything. Jen realized it was up to her to start the conversation. “OK Karen, I know something’s going on. You’ve been quieter than usual, and I haven’t seen your toothpaste smile lately. What gives?”

“It’s hard to talk about, and don’t laugh. A few weeks ago a few girls started teasing me for no reason I could think of. They kept it up and got their friends and a few of the boys to start teasing me as well.

“I knew something was going on. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was afraid you might think I was crazy or imagining it. I don’t know what to make of myself these days. Is there something wrong with me or something weird?”

“Don’t you think I would tell you if there was? Would I let you get picked on? I’m your best friend, remember?”

“I know you are but I didn’t know what to say. I can’t think of anything to do to make them stop. I don’t know what I can change about myself to make me seem more normal. Can you help?”

“I’d be glad to help. We just have to figure out what’s going on.”

“I’ve been trying. Could you start by telling me how I might look to them?”

“Without knowing you, here is what I would see. You are a very pretty girl. You don’t wear much makeup but you don’t need to. Your skin is very smooth and almost glows. When you wear you hair down, any boy would want to run his hands through it to see how silky it is. From what I can tell with your clothes on, you have average size breasts which seem to fit your body perfectly. The rest of your body is very well proportioned too. No flab that I can see, but also not too skinny.

“The clothes you are wearing right now show off your body to good advantage but don’t look cheap, attractive without looking like a floozy. Nothing you have on looks ridiculous. At first glance, I can’t see anything to tease you about if I wanted to.”

“So maybe it’s not about my body or clothes. Are you sure you’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

“You asked me to be honest. I am. That’s what I see.”

“Thanks. Okay, what else do people see about me?”

“That’s easy. You seem like a bright girl, intelligent and funny and sure of yourself. You are on the honor roll, play basketball and soccer and lead the debate club. You’re always kind and polite to everyone. You aren’t snooty and never come across as thinking you are better than anyone else. You’re generous and helpful when anyone needs you.”

“You make me sound like a saint!”

“You practically are. I can’t think of anything you could change to make yourself any better.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Did you ever think that the problem isn’t you? “I just told you how I see you. Don’t you think some of the girls at school might be jealous of you?”

“What? I never thought of that.”

“I think it’s a good possibility.”

“What should I do about it- try to look ugly or start screwing up my life?”

“Then they would really have something to tease you about. Let’s talk with our friends  and see what we can do together to get you off the hot seat. We will all work on it together.”

“Thanks, Jen. Now I know why you’re my best friend.”

*****

So that’s what it might be like for one teen. Finding someone to help you isn’t the end of the story. But it helps to know you don’t have to face your problem on your own.

Excerpt from my book Make the Best of Your Teen Years:105 Ways to Do It. For a free sample, follow this link and choose See Inside.

How to understand and deal with terrorism

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If we continue to create a world where there is poverty and disrespect,
there will continue to be terrorism.

~Jodie Evans~

Lately, it has become common to associate terrorism with religious groups, particularly radical extremists within Islam. Ben Norton quotes Max Abrahms’ observation that scholars have traditionally conceived of terrorism as, “a political communication strategy in which groups use violence to amplify their grievances and the costs to the target countries of ignoring them.” He notes that no one claims responsibility for the majority of terrorist attacks unless they have something to gain from it politically.

Abrahms notes that terrorist groups are not acting with a common motivation. He sees these groups as varying significantly. He also cites differences in motivation between the leaders of such groups and those actually carrying out the terrorist acts.

Daniel Pipes writes in an article in the New York Sun that at one time terrorists generally noted their goals such as the release of imprisoned members of their groups. In more recent times, demands are not usually made before acting and terrorist attacks take place without any announcement of what the terrorists are aiming to accomplish. He suggests possible motivations such as personal grievances of individual terrorists related to their anger about poverty, cultural alienation or prejudice, and attempts to get various governments to change their policies. Lately, a major goal has been the establishment of a caliphate, although it is unclear what that would actually mean if the goal was met.

It is easy to forget the role of our country in creating terrorist movements. In the case of ISIS, the United States and other Western powers–probably unintentionally–destabilized the government of Iraq through misguided intervention and left a power vacuum and lack of leadership as well as warring factions. This in turn created fertile ground for the roots of ISIS to take hold.

There is no easy solution to dealing with ISIS or other terrorist organizations. Their leaders are bent on destroying the influence of the “devil” United States in the Middle East. Reasoning with them does not appear to be a promising strategy.

Many of those at the bottom of terrorist ranks who actually carry out the terrorist attacks are alienated individuals who see life as holding no future for them, at least on Earth. These people tend to escape our notice, much as do youths with potential violence in their future in our own country.

Tori DeAngelis suggests characteristics of potential recruits to terrorist organizations stated by John Horgan, director of the Pennsylvania State University Center for the Study of Terrorism:

  • Feeling angry, alienated or disenfranchised
  • Believing that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change
  • Identifying with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting
  • Feeling the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem
  • Believing that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral
  • Having friends or family sympathetic to the cause
  • Believing that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity

As a world society, it is our challenge to identify these people, understand their frustrations, and help them see more constructive alternatives. This is a big order one more humane than trying to destroy everyone with such leanings.

Joanne Bourke in her book, Deep Violence, says, “Evidence suggests that killing leaders of terrorist organizations pushes those groups into becoming more aggressive, in part by fueling fury about the power of Western nations such as the US.” This piece of wisdom should humble us and remind us that we are not all powerful.

DeAngelis suggests that there are several promising avenues of approach to changing the “hearts and minds of terrorist detainees.” These include:

  • Engaging moderate Muslim clerics to work with them focusing on the “true teachings of the Qur’an” about jihad and violence
  • Showing authentic concern about their families through real life programs to improve their family functioning
  • Engaging reformed former terrorists in efforts to help others understand that “violence against civilians compromises the image of Islam”

Before such efforts can lead to success, those working with captured terrorists must first manage their own perceptions and emotions about the people with whom they work, looking beyond their initial reactions. Next, let’s take a look at violence in our culture not related to terrorism.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose “Look Inside.”)

How do I start to understand violence?

To cure the violence, we must identify and heal the causes of hatred and violence.
If we don’t deal with the causes we will never be safe.
~Peter Yarrow~
The term random violence suggests that there is no explanation for such acts which have become all too commonplace recently. Acceptance that there is no explanation implies that that there is nothing we can do about it. The approach of placing more guns in the hands of civilians has been promoted as one possible solution although it sounds scary to me.
​​​​​​​Commentators and others have scratched their heads trying to clarify the reasons for this violence. Among the possibilities are parenting styles, the effects of mental illness, the proliferation of guns, violent video games, media sensationalism and violent lyrics in music. We would like to find a reason for the violence which does not include our own culture and attack the problem as lying outside us.
What if the reasons lie within the culture of which we are a part? Then the search becomes uncomfortable. We would need to examine our own thoughts and emotions as people living in this culture.
In his article, The Autogenic Massacre, P. E. Mullen reminds us that guns and violent revolution formed one basis for founding the United States. He also revises a well known slogan to read “Guns don’t kill people, but people kill people with guns.” He notes that many popular movies glorify gun violence. Most people do not use guns to actually protect themselves. Most seldom have the intention of murdering others. Yet some people do have such motivations and some become mass murderers.
Mental illness is often seen as an explanation or in common words, “He must be crazy!” For the most part it is a “he.” Violent attacks are much more likely to be carried out by men than by women. The result of this kind of thinking is to identify and isolate these mentally ill individuals from mainstream society. Yet the mentally ill are far more commonly the victims of violence than they are perpetrators of violence.
Attempts to clarify which traits predict violence have been largely unsuccessful and tend to include people with moderate or little risk of becoming violent. The great majority of mass killers are white males, but no other characteristics are helpful in defining who is likely to become violent. They are not clearly psychotic, delusional, crazy or insane.
Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University, has listed the features most relevant to mass shooters. They include antisocial traits, depressed mood, recent loss and perception that others are to blame for their problems.
He sees these risk factors as common to violent adults as well as children. Yet these are not mental illnesses in themselves. They imply unwanted emotions and difficulty coping with challenges and life events which we all face from time to time.
Mullen suggests that mass murderers may not differ from the rest of us in how they think or feel. They may just differ in the degree to which they experience feelings such as rage and motivations like revenge.
Another factor might be an exaggerated sense of entitlement which fuels rage in certain people when their expectations are not met by society. Other people disposed toward violence often feel marginalized by society, also leading them to anger, rage and feelings of wanting revenge.
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Trying to isolate such individuals and punishing them for their emotions only increases their sense of isolation and pent-up rage. As we saw when we discussed the criminal justice system, another approach would be to try reaching such individuals before they become hardened into seeing violence as their only alternative. Such an approach would not be easy, and it also goes against the vigilante or cowboy thinking of many people these days. Yet it promises a much more productive way of going about making lasting changes.