The lights were off and the door was locked in Shreya Mahadevan’s fourth-grade classroom at Johnson Elementary School. Small bodies huddled quietly behind a wall of backpacks—their teacher in tears.
“It was really scary. Petrifying,” says the 9-year-old girl about the lockdown her school was under last October, when a man in nearby Johnson Village was on the run after a reported burglary and sexual assault.
But as she huddled near the backpacks, and then ducked behind a bookshelf for cover, she didn’t know why—she just knew it felt different than the drills she’d been practicing.
“It’s not scary if we’re having a drill,” says Shreya. “It just makes you feel like you know what to do when something happens.”
Pausing for a moment, she corrects herself: “If something happens.”
The unspeakable attack on children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 shocked the nation. When reality hit, parents and guardians wondered whether their children were safe at school.
Trigger warning: This article discusses dating violence and abusive relationships. If you, or someone you know, needs help, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline and LoveIsrespect for information, resources, and 24/7 live support.
In the United States, one in three adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional and/or verbal abuse from a romantic partner. That figure not only far exceeds other types of youth violence, according to Cameka Crawford, chief communications officer at The Hotline, but is even higher than the rate of dating violence experienced by adults (one in four women and one in seven men).
By the time women enter college, nearly half (43 percent) have experienced some form of dating abuse. “That’s alarming,” Crawford tells A Plus. “… The time is now to speak up. This is happening far too often in our country.”
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), with its main event “Respect Week,” taking place on February 12 to 16. The day before Valentine’s Day, February 13, those interested in raising awareness can wear orange in solidarity with survivors of dating violence.
Revenge and retaliation always perpetuate the cycle of anger, fear and violence. ~Coretta Scott King~
What makes people violent? There are many contributors including poverty, discrimination, lack of respect and feeling insignificant in society. You can read more about these in my book, From Violence to Peace. I wrote recently about what individuals can do personally and what they can do in their relationships and families to reduce the likelihood of violence. Now it is time to consider what communities can do.
A community is a group of people living together in one place. Some communities can boast of people living harmoniously and agreeing on ways to keep it that way. In recent years, community spirit has been less evident and it is now fairly common to see locally the same divisiveness which pervades countries and relationships among countries. We will look at that next time.
Communities can make a difference in the quality of life for their residents. They can help see that all community members have their basic needs met: a safe and decent place to live, enough food for their families, acceptance as worthwhile human beings, and a way to feel competent and important. This is nice in theory, but does it happen in reality?
Many communities have started programs helping their less fortunate citizens meet their basic needs such as community dinners, food banks, clothing centers and free clinics. Rides are available to medical and other appointments. These are just a few examples of what some communities are doing. News programs have lately been making a point of celebrating community as well as individual efforts to make life better for their fellow citizens.
While these are great steps, much more could be done if everyone in a community decided to help everyone feel important in some way. Some contributions are not expensive and cost no money at all. How people greet each other (or don’t) makes both of them feel a little better or a little worse. You can help people feel more worthwhile by how you treat them. How would you feel if others in your community saw you as a lesser form of creature, a second class citizen or an embarrassment?
All of these are steps to creating a culture in which your neighbors can improve their standing in their own eyes and in the opinion of those with whom they rub elbows during the course of the day. People who start to feel better about themselves are also less inclined toward violence. Isn’t that worth the effort?
- What can you do in your daily interactions to help improve the quality of life in your community?
- Can you contribute some of your time, effort or money to help support a community program?
- Can you help start a program for a need not being addressed?
- Consider how you and your children might be more accepting to those whose lives differ from yours.
- Think of ways you can help others feel more worthwhile.
Peace is not the absence of conflict but
the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.
Family traditions are handed down from one generation to the next, for better or worse. Unfortunately that includes violent tendencies. Children raised by abusive parents are more likely to become violent adults themselves. This includes tendencies toward physical, emotional and social violence. I remember working with men who sexually abused their children. Some of them thought sexual contact with their children was normal since they had been on the receiving end of it throughout their childhood and adolescence. Some men know that violence is wrong but turn to it as a response to their frustrations and disappointments. They may not have been taught more constructive responses. If the family is a breeding ground for violence, what can be done about it?
It is up to parents to provide fertile ground for planting and nurturing alternatives. If parents were raised in abusive families, their first step is to recognize the pattern, especially if they have adopted the violent ways of their own parents. If their children have become violent, punishment will not correct the problem. It just gives them a strong motivation to find ways to avoid punishment.
Once parents recognize and accept that they are abusive, the next step is to understand their violence. This is a difficult challenge for parents to master alone. Counseling may well be useful in helping them understand the mental and emotional process of becoming angry and reacting with violence. Once they understand this process, they can move on to discover more constructive outlets for unwanted and unpleasant thoughts and feelings. It would be best to address all of this before having children.
Being a parent comes with its own challenges, fears, frustrations and disappointments. It should be no surprise that these difficulties will also face your children least from time to time. Parents who have learned to manage their own conflicts will be in a better position to help their children manage their challenges in a healthy and constructive way. If every family did this, violence in the world would be much less of a problem.
- How did you see your parents handle their challenges when you were a child?
- What did you learn from them about how to manage your challenges?
- Have you learned constructive ways to handle challenges?
- If you have learned to live in peace, share what you learned with your children.
- Don’t expect your children to be perfect but help them develop good life habits.
For more on violence, see my book on Amazon, From Violence to Peace.
Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion.
Without compassion, then community, commitment, loving-kindness,
human understanding and peace all shrivel.
In the next few posts, I invite you to consider with me the various levels on which violence can be addressed. Let’s start with the personal level. No one person can create world peace alone, but what takes place within you can certainly have an impact.
Baba Ram Dass lists sources of internal violence including feeling isolated from others, looking at life from a “me first” perspective, meeting only your own needs and disregarding those of others, having no context for your life or way to judge your thoughts, feelings and actions, having an exaggerated sense of self importance, not appreciating the importance of anyone else’s life and using others only to meet your own needs. All of these traits increase the likelihood of your violence toward others and their violence toward you.
Sebastian Yunger suggests basic human needs which, when met, reduce the inclination toward violence toward yourself or toward others. They include:
- Feeling competent means you feel able to accomplish things in your life.
- Feeling authentic or autonomous means seeing yourself as being taken seriously and as a valuable person.
- Feeling connected to others means being able to interact with others on a level where your lives are both valuable.
So how do you eliminate sources of internal violence and realize these basic human needs in your life? You could start by rating yourself on the destructive and constructive traits. Then you well have a better sense of where you need to refine your view of yourself.
u might also look at where your traits came from. What did your parents teach you about your self worth? What did they teach you about the value of other people compared to you? What have you learned about yourself and others from your own experience?
Have your upbringing and personal experience left you feeling at peace with yourself and with others. If so, count yourself fortunate. If not, how did your negative traits arise? Do you blame someone for your misfortune? Can you balance your misfortune with positive aspects of your life? How can you start to think in a different way about yourself and other you encounter along your life path? What can you change about you thinking, feelings and actions to help you feel more at peace with yourself and with others?
- If you find yourself in the grip of the negative traits mentioned above, what can you change about your life to help you develop new traits?
- Who can help you change the direction of your inner life?
- If your basic needs are being met, concentrate on helping others meet their needs.
- If not, what would it take to help you feel better about yourself?
- How can you accomplish these goals without hurting others in the process?
These and related ideas are treated more fully in my book, From Violence to Peace, available from Amazon. For a free sample, follow the link and choose Look Inside.