Category Archives: violence

Announcing the Release of My New eBook

The world seems to be growing more violent day by day. When was the last time you picked up a newspaper or turned on a TV news show without facing reports of apparently senseless murders, attacks, or violent conflicts? No matter what the explanation, how much sense does what happened make to you?

How do we make sense of violence? Consider the following:

  • In 2002, the US youth homicide rate was more than 10 times that of other leading industrial nations.
  • In 2002, 25% of women had experienced domestic violence and 6 million children witnessed domestic violence annually.
  • The world spends just $1 on conflict prevention for every $1885 it spends on military budgets.
  • In 2010, the federal government spent over 1.3 trillion or 9% of the Gross Domestic Product on violence containment (war, police, and prisons).
  • In 2014, the international Global Peace Index ranked the United States as the 101st most peaceful country of the 152 which were ranked. Criteria were how much a country goes to war, political instability, number of murders, protection of human rights and public security with a small number of police officers. If number of prisoners executed and the percentage of citizens incarcerated were included, the US would have ranked even lower. I have not seen any indication that any of these have changed significantly for the better in recent years.

Where does all this violence come from? Writers and researchers have taken the position that one or more of the following contribute to violence: violent media, genetics, family break-down, lack of moral purpose, the criminal justice system, family violence, the drug trade, and capitalism.  Cases have been made for all of these as explanations of the level of violence in the United States. There is no general agreement on the cause of violence or what to do about it although most people agree that something must be done and soon.

(Excerpt from What To Do About Violence)

What To Do About Violence is my latest book. It is a brief FREE ebook available on Amazon about the nature of violence and how to approach it on personal, family, community and government levels. Download your free copy here.

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.

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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How to understand and deal with terrorism

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 violenceShowing 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.”)

Personal Origins of Violence

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

~Isaac Asimov~

Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one is born violent in the sense of trying to harm others. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted many studies over the years to try predicting violence without much success.

No way of understanding violence has been able to predict whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays violent behavior, it is clear that he or she is capable of violence and likely to be violent in the future.

But the question remains: Where does violence come from? Let’s look at some contributors to violence. One is the path your life takes. Your pattern of life experience can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a violent one.

I refer here to violence done by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. Violence may be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for the violence. Your being part of a group acting in a violent way can give you a reputation for violence whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

Researchers have debated for years about whether violence or a tendency toward violence can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research. Hormones appear to play a role. Testosterone is seen as a contributor to aggression, which may well account for the much greater number of male than female aggressors. Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical to violence.

Aggression might look similar but is not always intended to harm anyone. Remember that intent of harm is one of the parts of the definition of violence we discussed in the last chapter. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances and experiences while growing up appear to play a significant role in the violent tendencies and violent behavior of individuals. Here are a few developmental circumstances which can make a difference:

  • Your treatment in your family
  • Your family’s stability
  • The safety of your neighborhood
  • The adequacy of housing and food as you grew up
  • How others react to your racial or ethnic background
  • How you learn to react to threats

Other contributors beyond you developmental years and into adulthood include the following:

  • Your feelings in response to physical danger
  • How you think about yourself
  • How you view other people
  • How you see your life situation
  • Your prospects for a satisfying life
  • The adequacy of resources for managing your life

 

Reasons for Violence

 

Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.

~Lao Tzu~

Violence is seldom random although it is often described that way in the news. There is usually a reason, although a violent person might not have much understanding of the reason. Wikipedia suggests a few possible reasons for violence:

To express anger or hostility– Many people show their anger by hitting someone or something or at least wanting to do so. Your first reaction might be to show how you feel by striking out which does not usually change anything for the better. It shows people you are angry, although it also shows how little control you have of yourself. If you often act violently to show your anger, you probably have no goal in mind other than to express your rage. It is a purely emotional reaction which shows others you are upset but does not convey why you are upset or what you would like to have different about the situation associated with your anger.

To assert dominance–Violence can be a way of trying to take charge of a situation or of another person or group by force. It is a way to show others that you are more powerful than they are and that they can’t push you around.

To intimidate or threaten–This is similar to the attempt to dominate others. Here you want others to fear you, and you act in a way to bring this about. If you are successful, others may be less likely to do whatever they did to make you angry next time. This is an emotional response and often does not have any specific goal or circumstances in mind other than to scare others into acting as you want them to.

To achieve a goalSometimes you may turn to violence when more reasonable methods do not get you what you want. You might not be adept at less aggressive ways of getting others’ attention. Yet, once you turn to violence, people are usually less likely to pay attention to what you want and concentrate on avoiding interaction with you.

To express possession–This is a way of dramatizing your control of property. It can also be a way to show others they are threatening your control of your possessions and you want to warn them to stay back. When they don’t back off, you might escalate your violence to make your point.

A response to fear–Protecting yourself in the face of danger is a basic animal instinct commonly seen in humans as well as other species. We saw earlier that violence is an attempt to cause others pain. While others’ pain might be a side effect of your attempt to protect yourself, deliberately wanting to hurt someone goes beyond the need for self-protection.

A reaction to pain–This is similar to your response to fear. Violence is an extreme reaction to managing pain. Aggression might well be necessary when someone is causing you pain, but again, wanting them to suffer goes beyond basic protection of your needs and rights.

To compete with others–This is a similar motivation to intimidation or threat. Violence is a way to lessen the competition for what you want. Deliberately going beyond fair competition, violence puts you squarely in the role of the bully.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace)

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