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.
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.
The pace of life has become faster and more frantic in recent years. Many people leave little time for thoughtful reflection or just sitting still. If you are older, you might remember when life was simpler and less hectic. If you are younger, you might have heard about more peaceful times from your relatives. How did we get from living in relative peace to being obsessed with anger and its expression in violence?
Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? I have long considered a possible connection between these events and their relationship to fear and violence. Let’s take a closer look.
If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) if you think you can overcome it or avoiding it (flight) if it seems more powerful than you are. Fear and these responses to it follow a direct and immediate threat of attack such as by a wild animal or person. You don’t have time to think about it but automatically react almost immediately.
Anxiety is related to fear. The feared object might not be immediately present, but you might worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. You become anxious about your own welfare or that of your family. You might also fret about the possible behavior of other people or the course taken by the society in which you live.
If you are unable to find a way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside you and possibly remain invisible to others. You might find someone whom you trust with your concerns and share them or act on your anxiety by lashing out. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point when they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people turn to violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear.
The result can also be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if you see others as responsible for your predicament. If you could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in the world might not seem quite so senseless. Violence often makes sense to people feeling overwhelmed by life burdens. Most people tend to react emotionally to such situations without giving their response much thought.
If you could step back from your emotions, you might see more constructive possibilities and be able to choose one of them. Once you are overwhelmed, it might be too late to step back. You could make a practice of learning to take a break from your daily routine even when you are not under pressure. Then you will have a better idea how to handle stressful life events when they arise.
But what can you do about that pressured feeling? Perhaps the best place to start is to realize that technology has resulted in amazing inventions allowing you to contact others around the world in a matter of seconds. Yet the overload of immediate communication has resulted in separating people rather than bringing them closer together. Here is what General Omar Bradley had to say, “The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
In the process of becoming immediately connected, we seem to have forgotten the purpose of communication. It is to help us understand each other and learn to work together to find harmonious ways for us to exist together. Instead, we use our channels of communication to persuade others to think as we do. We use them for entertainment, validating ourselves and for advertising.
Although our technology to some extent helps us understand each other, we need to do much more to appreciate each other in our search for meaningful lives. People who tend toward violence may have goals not much different from our own. Yet they might have had their dreams crushed along the way. They no longer see any path toward a fulfilling life and look for a way to express their frustration.
Violence is seen as aggressive behavior with the intent to cause physical or psychological harm. Hostile aggression also fits our definition of violence for the purposes of this book. It is performed in anger for the purpose of harming another person. By constant exposure to it, we have come to be more accustomed to violence in our society, regardless of the presence or absence of a relationship between perpetrator and victim.
Mindfulness is a way you can come to understand yourself and your inner workings. It involves reflecting on your thoughts and emotions rather than acting on them impulsively. It is a form of meditation and involves making your body and mind still.
You do this by being in a place of serenity free of distractions. You pay attention to your inner state as well as the sounds, sights and smells around you while making no judgments about anything in your awareness. This is a practice where you can exist in just this moment without any concern for the past or future. You can practice mindfulness in order to take your mind and your body down a more constructive path than it might have otherwise taken. Rather than letting your emotions direct your whole day, you could step back from them and put them in context. We will look at this in greater detail later.
Do you usually react with immediate anger when something upsets your routine and then let it consume you for the rest of the day? Do you look for someone to blame for everything that happens to you, when you might be at least partially responsible? Do you let your mood take over your decisions and actions rather than trying to look at situations more rationally? Are you always on alert to find someone at fault? These are a few things to explore in a calmer mood once you find one, but it takes practice to set this mood.
Many people tend to look closely at another person’s behavior, decide what they don’t like about it and then think about how that person should act to make them happy. Yet you are not in charge of what everybody else does or thinks. If you want to understand someone’s inner workings, the closest person at hand is yourself. You can start by looking without judgment at your own thoughts, feelings and actions and work toward understanding them. Again I am referring to mindfulness. With a better understanding of yourself, you will be in a better position to understand and make sense of others’ actions. Maybe you and they can even find ways to work together on handling emotions.