I happen to live near one of the tragic “school shootings” of the recent past, and I have seen how pain, anger, anguish and turmoil have impacted our community. It has shown that the general abhorrence of violence is not enough. While I’m sure others will have different, and perhaps wiser, suggestions on how to reduce violence, here are my top 10 ways to reduce violence. If you can improve them, I would appreciate your feedback, but I suspect it may be more important and more helpful if you write a letter to your local newspaper or school board. Together we can reduce and perhaps eliminate violence.
1. Disconnect anger from violence. I am convinced that human beings get angry and that anger at injustice is often justified. There is a healthy anger that insists, “There must be a better way!” I shut down when I hear parents say to children, “You shouldn’t be angry.” Instead, say, “Your feelings are okay, you may be angry, but you may not hit or hurt others.”
2. See the connection between the love of violence and violence itself. The fascination with brutality, guns and bombs, war and evil should increase the chances of violent behavior. I can’t prove that, it just seems likely to me.
3. See the connection between all levels of violence. Insults and teasing, humiliation and shame are forms of violence. When we treat people badly, it should come as no surprise that they find a way to “get even.”
4. Take all violence seriously. Playground bullies and sibling rivalries don’t have to be accepted as part of life, at least not when kids are being hurt. Children fighting over “my toy” is one thing; hitting yourself or pulling your hair or hitting yourself is something else. We don’t have to accept it as normal behavior.
5. Take angry and troubled people seriously. We talked about the need for earlier intervention with troubled children, and I agree. But people of all ages get caught in situations they can’t handle, with emotions they don’t know how to express. Domestic violence, violence between co-workers and between children should always be treated as a serious matter. Hitting and hurting, and threatening to hurt, is not right.
6. Address the availability of weapons. Knives, cars, and a thousand other things kill people, too, but guns hold a unique place in the American imagination. Of course, they also have a place in the rich tradition of hunting and target shooting. I don’t have all the answers, but hunting seems different than having military-style weapons available in millions of homes across the country. There must be a better system.
7. Recognize the connection between violent images and violent behavior. I hate censorship so this is a tough question. But if 30-second footage can sell us lipstick and Buicks, and change the way we vote, it seems likely that hours and hours of explosions, shootings, fights, and mayhem could influence behavior as well. To be frank, I am particularly concerned about violence in video games and the number of violent “action adventure” movies that we support as a culture. Something strange is happening!
8. Recognize the connection between sports and violent behavior. Again, sports are a sacred icon in American culture, but it seems that sports have separated from athletics. Instead of all the kids participating in gym class and competing in intramural sports, we have a culture of superhero superstars who are practically above the law. Hockey, basketball, soccer, and other sports tolerate behaviors that could result in arrests for assault off the sports field. Competition and aptitude are valuable; Organized violence is not acceptable!
9. Recognize the connection between language and violence. Business uses the language of the battlefield, and sports are full of encouragement to “go out and kill,” “slaughter” them, and “bang their brains out.” Our legal system is based on the idea that lawyers are fighting. While hiring a representative to fight with words instead of clubs was a huge step forward in the Middle Ages, perhaps our society is ready for an even higher level of conflict resolution.
10. See the violence in ourselves. Sometimes I find myself so angry that I “daydream” about the violence, or “actually showing it.” I hear jokes that use the phrase, “Just shoot the bastards!” I know if “looks can kill” or if cutting statements really make you bleed, I’d be in deep trouble. Violence is not someone else’s problem. I must work for peace, love and better conflict resolution in my own life. And you?