What Can YOUR Government Do About Violence?

There is no life to be found in violence. Every act of violence brings us closer to death. Whether it’s the mundane violence we do to our bodies by overeating toxic food or drink or the extreme violence of child abuse, domestic warfare, life-threatening poverty, addiction, or state terrorism.

~Bell Hooks~

Lately our government, at least at the national level, seems to have forgotten who it works for. Congress recently passed a tax bill into law despite it being in great disfavor with a significant number of voters. A slight majority of Congress appears to be pandering to its wealthy donors and other wealthy citizens to the detriment of the rest of the country.

Violence remains a significant problem in our country although it has not shown an overall increase in recent years. Yet our communities across the country are rife with violence. We have too many mass killings, sexual assaults, suicides, drug overdoses and incidents of family violence.

In the past few articles, I have addressed what violence is and what causes it, what individuals can do, what families can do and what communities can do to reduce violence. Governments at all levels have approached the problem of violence mainly by looking for ways to punish perpetrators. Yet many violent people are motivated by anger, fear and pain. Punishing people for any of these only compounds the problem.

So what can government officials, citizen representatives at various levels, elected bodies and agencies created by them do other than punish people?

Here are some goals our representatives can address on our behalf:

  • Set up and fund programs in our communities to understand why people feel angry, powerless, fearful and in pain.
  • Establish community programs to address these concerns.
  • Do what it takes to help people rise above poverty.
  • Help neighborhoods find ways for their residents to live in safety.
  • Help citizens learn that skin color, national origin, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexual orientation and personal wealth have nothing to do with the value on anyone’s life.
  • Make sure that all citizens have adequate health care.
  • Help every citizen find a way to be a productive member of society.
  • Find a responsible way for citizens to own guns.

How do we get elected representatives to adopt such an agenda? Remember that all of them at every level are elected by those who they represent. They work for you. You will be bombarded by political advertising in every election cycle. Rather that listening to the onslaught, we need to start listening to each other person to person and in community forums. Once we understand what we all need we can elect people to act in our best interest who are willing to listen to each other and to us. It sounds daunting, but it can be done if we set our minds to it. Start doing your part today to build a more responsive government.

 

What Can Communities Do about 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?

Action Steps

  • 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.

 

How Families Can Address Violence

Peace is not the absence of conflict but
the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.

 ~Dorothy Thompson~

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.

Action Steps

  • 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.

Art at Guantanamo

In prison, those things withheld from and denied to the prisoner
become precisely what he wants most of all.

~Eldridge Cleaver~

This morning at the gym, I was watching the news as I worked out on the treadmill. Then a woman changed the channel to Fox. I watched as one of the panelists carried on about how awful it was that prisoners at Guantanamo were allowed to produce art. The implication was that they should be punished and allowed no amenities. The prisoners at Guantanamo are detainees and it does not appear that any of them have been convicted of a crime by a court. It also appears that these detainees are not allowed private access to lawyers, a right central to the American sense of justice.

Several years ago I volunteered through Americorps at Genesee Orleans Council on the Arts. One of the projects I considered was a display of art by inmates at local prisons. The bureaucracy involved became too much for me to contend with and I did not complete the project. Yet I did spend considerable time exploring prison art and had a chance to consider its usefulness.

I learned that art for prisoners is no different than it is for anyone else. It is a chance to express ideas in ways which words cannot always do. Art expresses hopes, despair, longing, rage and frustration among other feelings. Of course there are more direct ways of expressing feelings.

Direct ways of expressing rage and anger are among the major causes of people being in prison in the first place. In the case of Guantanamo detainees are there due to suspicion of such behavior. Further dehumanizing prisoners before and after conviction through years of punishment and allowing little if any chance to act as a human being makes it harder for prisoners to readjust to society when they finally get the chance. It also reinforces any antisocial tendencies they might have.

What if we encouraged prisoners to find more constructive ways to express their feelings rather than acting them out? What if that helped them confront their own feelings? What if the rest of us relearned the place of art in humanizing our society? Something to consider.

What you can do about violence in America

 

Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion.
Without compassion, then community, commitment, loving-kindness,
human understanding and peace all shrivel.
~Susan Vreeland~

 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.

You might also look at where your traits came from. What did your parents teach you about your self­worth? 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?

Action steps  

  • 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.

Addressing Violence in America

Social justice cannot be attained by violence.
Violence kills what it intends to create.

~Pope John Paul II~

We often hear and speak of fighting a war on violence. Efforts in this direction often carry their own hostility. What can we do besides fighting another war? Such efforts only increase aggression in our society. If we don’t use forceful means, what can we do?

For starters we can learn to understand where violence comes from and what its intent is. In my last post I suggested ways to understand the mind of the murderer. We know that murderers and perpetrators of other violence are angry, frustrated and desperate. Yet we can’t go from one person to the next individually addressing what ails them. We also do not know which people are likely to act in a violent way. Psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists have been trying for years to find satisfactory ways to predict violence in individuals. So far no good ways have emerged.

Does that mean we have to give up? No. It just means we need to address violence on several levels. These include personal, interpersonal, family, community and governmental approaches.

Your own mind and emotions as well as your reactions to what happens to you in life incline you toward being either a peaceful or violent person. Understanding and possibly changing yourself is a good place to start.

What happens between any two people affects how each of them, think, feel and act toward each other as well as toward others? Each interaction carries forward to the next encounter.

Families set the tone for young children. Children learn how to think, feel and act from their parents and older siblings. Although children encounter many other influences, their families set the tone for future learning.

How we interact with each others in our communities influences how we think, feel and act toward each other for better or worse. We can work together to make our communities peaceful or violent.

Our government consists of those we elect to lead us toward our goals. Violent, divisive or self absorbed leaders tear apart our society. Peaceful, considerate and supportive leaders help us build a healthy society.

I plan to write further posts addressing each of these approaches in more detail. Stay tuned.

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Inside a Killer’s Mind

  A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous,
but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man. It is only if the murderer
is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.

~Graham Greene~

We have had more than our share of unexplained shootings lately as well as a growing number of vehicle killings. I do not refer here to gang shootings, organized crime or war killings across the world. I mean what we call mass murders and random shootings now appearing around the world with troubling frequency.

Most of the time we don’t know what provoked the killer to take another’s life or many lives. We blame guns, mental illness, or political beliefs. Several years ago in the midst of the uproar about clergy sexually abusing children, no one seemed to care why they did it. Everyone looked for how to prevent it or punish it. We looked everywhere except inside the mind of the abuser. The same is now true of considering the killers among us.

We are too busy hating the killer to take time to understand him and it is usually him rather than her. Our anger rises to the surface. Our first thoughts are of vengeance and we are relieved if the murderer dies in the process or aftermath of the killing. But what about the murderer’s mind?

Can you imagine killing someone? I don’t think most of us reach this level of hatred without considerable provocation. Yet I do think that anger and hatred very often lie in the background. I don’t mean just a single incident resulting in anger. I dare say that people driven to murder usually experience a long history of very troublesome emotions.

A childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and even hatred shape and direct young or growing minds toward at least the possibility of violence. Being treated as if their lives have no value can leave some resentful toward society where they seem to find no acceptance. Being trained as a war machine can leave veterans estranged from traditional human values. Feeling left out of the privileges others seem to enjoy can build up resentment for society as a whole. Racial prejudice can leave people hating their oppressors. Even white men can feel left out of the benefits they see offered to those of other races.

Fortunately not all of these people end up as murderers. Yet many of them end up living angry lives and sometimes feel pushed to the extreme of violence and even murder. They are often drawn to anger-­driven groups and movements. To my mind, those who reach this extreme state feel isolated, unvalued, persecuted, treated unfairly, and generally left out of society which they come to see as their enemy. Maybe what they want is to be taken seriously or to be recognized as being of some significance.

What can we do about it as a society? That’s another topic which I will leave for the next post.

Action Steps

  • Think of the time in your life when you were your angriest.
  • What got you to that point?
  • How did you want to react?
  • How did you actually handle it?
  • What would have helped you handle it better?
  • How well do you handle your anger now?

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  • Have you ever wondered how to feel more at peace in you body, in your mind or in your soul?
  • Would you like to know more about the daily challenges we all face and what to do about them?
  • How can you make your relationships with others more harmonious?

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Cultivating Happiness

Happiness

We all want to be happy. The right to pursue happiness is even written into our country’s bill of rights. But how does one do that? Is it even possible to become a happier person? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it? Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying these questions and the answers are encouraging. Turns out you can genuinely increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life—and it doesn’t require a winning lottery ticket or some other drastic change of circumstances. What it takes is an inner change of perspective and attitude. And that’s truly good news, because it’s something that anyone can do.

(Excerpt from article in HelpGuide.org. Read More)

Teens Being Teased: Karen’s Story

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 are 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.