Category Archives: understanding

Attempts to Understand Violence

Over the years many theories have emerged to explain violence. Here are some of them:

  • Self control–Whether someone acts violently depends on what goes on inside him or her. This theory assumes that acting violently is a rational choice. A person decides to be violent for some reason. It also assumes that the person knows what he or she is doing and knows the consequences of violent action for oneself and for others but decides to go ahead with it anyway. It also assumes that the person has the option to act violently or not and chooses violence over other possible courses of action.
  • Social control–Here the person’s environment explains the violence. According to this theory, the person’s environment calls for violence which might be the only viable response available. Others in the immediate environs would act the same way, making violence almost a normal and expected response based on the context.
  • Cultural theory–Each culture has its own values and standards for when violence is acceptable and for what actions are acceptable. Included are norms for when violence is seen as appropriate. People living in that culture are expected to follow the norms for appropriate behavior.
  • Social learning theory–Individuals learn how to act by observing others in situations similar to theirs. Families, schools and religions all have ways of acting to which the young are exposed. Even when the rules are not explicit, young people see how others around them act in response to different situations. This theory suggests that what young people see around them forms the basis for their action in a wide variety of situations in the future.
  • Exchange theory–Violence achieves certain goals and benefits which outweigh the costs of acting violently. In other words, there is something to be gained from acting violently. Perhaps revenge, punishment, the hope of heading off future unwanted behavior of others or similar motivations form the incentive for a person to act in a violent way. The cost of such behavior is the risk of retaliation, legal punishment or social disapproval. In terms of this theory, a person weighs the pros and cons and, all things considered, may choose violence as the best option.
  • Systems theory–This theory takes into account the thoughts, actions and principles operating at individual, group and community levels. The theory is complex and comes closest to providing a many-faceted explanation of why violence occurs. It includes influences based on an individual’s inner workings; what happens around the person; what rules are incorporated from the person’s family and friends as well as neighborhood, community and government. This last theory incorporates most of the other theories.

These are theories from the fields of sociology and social psychology. They suggest explanations of complex behavior and soon become complicated themselves as they try to explain everything that comprises a pattern of violent behavior.

Violence is not an easy topic to explain or even define in simple terms. We need to take  a closer look at what contributes to violence on various levels including the biological, rational (or not so rational), emotional, family, social, community and societal.

(Excerpt from my book From Violence to Peace)

https://www.amazon.com/Violence-Peace-Calming-Emotional-Storms-ebook/dp/B0714R5CM9/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502206324&sr=8-1&keywords=From+Violence+to+Peace

The Monacle

The New Yorker Magazine trademark caught my attention the other day. A man holds up his monocle, a strange looking little lens dangling from a cord, to better focus on the world’s details. The monocle, like other lenses, changes your view of things around you.

When I conducted play therapy some years ago, I kept a variety of lenses in my office including binoculars, microscopes, magnifying glasses and kaleidoscopes. My goal was to help children look at things in a way different from how they usually saw them and later to look at their lives in a new way as well.

You have learned to see things in a certain way and tend to limit yourself to your own point of view. The story of the blind men and the elephant demonstrates that we may have very different perceptions of the same situation if we experience only one aspect of it. What would you make of an elephant if you could not see it but only touched the tail, foot or trunk and not the rest of the animal?

Israelis and Palestinians as well as liberals and conservatives have very different perceptions of their ongoing animosity. Opposing political parties differ in what they think is best for their nations, states or communities. Neighbors sometimes become passionate about seemingly small issues such as where to string clotheslines. Strong opinions abound on all sides of these issues, usually with everyone convinced they are right and that the other side is bullheaded, stupid or just plain wrong.

No one usually wins arguments about differences, and often everyone remains entrenched in his or her views, convinced he or she is right. You accomplish little in heated controversy other than releasing hot air and sometimes venom. What if you had a mental lens which allowed you to see and understand the point of view of others?

The lens would allow you to set aside your convictions for the moment and listen dispassionately to what others have to say. What is important to them? What do they want? What if their wishes were not so different from yours? What if others also had a magic lens and could understand your convictions. Both sides could then give each other a fair hearing.

Giving others a chance for expression may lead to seeing the similarities of seemingly conflicting views. What may initially look like very different positions may turn out just to be different ways of saying the same thing.

While listening with an open mind, you may also discover that the other person has a legitimate point of view. What you hold dear may not be in anyone’s best interest, including your own. You might find the best course is somewhere in the middle. Revising your thinking would require a level of humility and openness most people do not usually feel when it comes to their cherished beliefs. But what if you tried it and found it worked?

Action steps

  • What do you see when you turn your monocle on yourself?
  • What do you see in others’ minds when you turn your monocle on them?
  • If you can’t see what they are thinking, ask them?
  • Look for areas of agreement.
  • Be respectful of differences.

(Excerpt from Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life- 2nd edition)

Understanding Narcissistic Rage

No reason, no principle, just the pure exercise of power.

~John Paul Sartre~

The magazine, Psychology Today, refers to it as “a chilling rage.” From the point of view of a narcissist, the world “looks like it should approve, adore, agree and obey you. Anything less than that feels like an assault and because of that a narcissist feels justified in raging back at it.”
Psychology Today also lists characteristics of narcissists. These include:

  • Control freaks– They try to exercise tight control over everything that happens around them and freak out when things do not go their way.
  • Irritability– They are easily annoyed and anything unpleasant tends to grate on them.
  • Short fuses– You have heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” They don’t see this as applying to them. Everything they don’t like is of major importance.
  • Low frustration tolerance- Life around them is calm only when everything is as they want it and everyone agrees with them.
  • Argumentative– They don’t believe in allowing others to have their own opinion or that it is possible to coexist peacefully with those who don’t agree with them. All differences must be attacked.
  • Need to have the last word– The never let anything go unchallenged and fight to the bitter end to have their ways accepted as the right ones.
  • Unable to lose– Their goal is to win at all costs regardless of the magnitude of the situation.
  • Won’t take no for an answer– For them no is not a complete sentence. It is a challenge to keep arguing.

They have other unpleasant traits as well:

  • Quick to anger if you don’t accommodate them– They don’t discuss arrangements which displease them. Instead they are much more likely to attack you as being wrong or inconsiderate.
  • Quick to being aggressively defensive if you call them on any deficiency, fault or responsibility– Another way of saying this is that they have “thin skin.” Nothing is ever their fault and there is always something wrong with you for attacking them.
  • Can’t apologize or, if they do they can’t do it sincerely-Any apology of theirs tends to be hollow and not really meant. You will be left knowing they think any fault lies with you.
  • Rarely say thank you or congratulations– You are not important and anything you accomplish reduces their feeling of self importance.
  • Don’t feel or demonstrate remorse– They don’t generally feel they have ever done anything wrong. Therefore they feel no need to feel sorry for anything..
  • Feel entitled to enthusiastic and appreciative approval, adoration, agreement and obedience– They view themselves at the top of the heap in all matters and expect others to bow down to them constantly.
  • Gloat in victory, sullen in defeat– Don’t expect any gracious gestures whether they get their way or not. It’s all about them.
  • Quick to rage if you humiliate them– Humiliation can be as simple as viewing them on the same plane with ordinary mortals and is viewed as a direct attack.

Maybe you are wondering how some people get to be raging narcissists. One theory is that by nature they have trouble feeling good about themselves and need constant reassurance of their value. This may well result from a childhood in which such people are constantly told of their lack of worth as persons. As adults they try to compensate for their inferiority feelings by seeking constant adulation from others. When they don’t find what they are looking for they begin to show the characteristics we have just discussed.

Another theory is that they need to feel better than everyone else in order to remain stable. When they do not get the praise they crave, they turn to rage in an attempt to bully others into revering them.
However they get that way, narcissists are very difficult to deal with. But that’s another story which I will address in my next post.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Anger in America)

Thank You Donald Trump

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer~

Some people are horrified at the venom spewing from the mouth of Donald Trump. People at the other end of the spectrum are happy to hear someone express the rage they feel because their lives are not the way they would like to see them.  Most of these people don’t dare to share their anger or lash out at anyone who could possibly be responsible for their lives being a mess but suffer in resignation.

The Trump rhetoric is not a reasoned response to feeling angry among his followers. There is no attempt to understand why they are in the situation they are in or to find a reasonable approach to changing that situation. Their sole focus seems to be to rage at those they blame for their misfortune and to destroy the people and institutions they hold responsible.

Trump supporters are not the only ones suffering. Many people silently endure poverty, racism, debt, lack of a good job and medical woes. They could choose rage as well but realize that spewing invective as he does will not change their situation. Nor will it make them feel any better in the long run. Those suffering in both groups do not have the power individually to change their status to that of people with more satisfying lives.

Have you ever known an angry mob to find constructive solutions to their plight? I haven’t. The only way to make reasonable changes is to learn how to work together. But you can’t do this while you are consumed with rage.

People shouting are not in the frame of mind to reason with anyone else about anything. Others who listen to the shouting only hear raw emotion. They don’t hear any details of others’ pain, how it came about or how it affects individuals and families. Neither do they hear anything rational which might become a basis for productive negotiations or cooperation.

So why should we thank Donald Trump? We all have within us the capacity to negotiate with each other toward our common good. All of us have the capacity to descend into blind rage where our words are merely weapons and offer no bridges toward mutual dialog. We can thank him for showing us the worst of which we are capable. He mirrors the depth of rage and spitefulness for which we all have the capacity.

Can you imagine all of the billions of people on earth acting as he does in public? It’s a frightful image to behold. Before we get to this point, we can learn to behave like rational human beings and express our concerns in a way which others can understand and which allows us to work together toward solutions which benefit us all.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Write down what makes you angry about your life.
  • Try to understand how you got to feel this way.
  • Do so without blaming someone else for your misfortune.
  • Consider what you have to offer others to better their lives.
  • Try out one of your ideas with one other person.

To Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes

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I was 18 years old standing in the back of my high school church youth group when my mind got to thinking. At this age I was first beginning to become aware of issues happening globally as opposed to only my own nation or immediate surroundings. A desire grew within my mind to gain understanding of any perspective which I had yet to experience or understand. I wanted to truly see things from the perspective of the homeless, the child dying from disease in Africa, and the wealthy businessman.

My search for understanding of wider perspective was based largely on the desire to discover why problems of poverty (and by contrast excessive luxury) exist in our world at all. I wanted to gain understanding of what reality truly is. In reality, there is absolutely no technical reason why there should any poverty. Our attachment to symbolic representations of what wealth is has restricted us from liberating all of life to live, at least in the sense of physical circumstances, rather well.

Excerpt from Dylan Raines’s article- read more