order to continue to make progress in addressing issues of violence
in our world, it is essential that we all understand some basic
principles of prevention. How we conceive of violence in our minds
and hearts needs to shift to a more empowering perspective.
first principle is
that most violence occurs between people who know each other. This
is not the normal mind set that most people have when they tune
into the evening news. Weather, sports and rampage and hear about
yet another murder in the big city nearest them. Because all the
details are not known when the story breaks, the false impression
is laid that the violent episode was stranger related. The reality
is that as a woman in this country, you are more likely to be maimed,
raped, severely injured or killed by your husband, boyfriend or
"ex", than you are by a stranger. This is not to deny the reality
of stranger danger. Many of us have been victimized by violence
from strangers. But when we do he numbers, carefully examine the
epidemiology of violence, we clearly see a different picture.
most common form of sexual assault is acquaintance rape; our children
and grandchildren are most likely to be sexually abused by a neighbor,
relative, friend of the family or a babysitter; more than 65% of
all homicides occur between people who know each other. This is
actually a hopeful perspective, since it elucidates patterns of
violent behavior that clearly have many opportunities for prevention.
second concept is
that at the center of the web of a lot of the violence we
experience sits domestic violence. When intimate terrorism is occurring,
we have homicides, suicides, child abuse, elder abuse, and sexual
assault. In addition, growing up in a violent household is the training
ground for the next generation of violently acting out juveniles.
As we have paid more focused attention to improving society's response
to domestic violence over the last decade, we have also seen a significant
drop in juvenile violence.
third notion is that understanding violence is similar
to a preschooler putting together a picture puzzle of Donald Duck
and Mickey Mouse. Only when all of the pieces are put in place does
one obtain a clear image. There are about a dozen major puzzle pieces
that contribute to violence: poverty, alcohol and other drugs, easy
availability of firearms, the media (everything from surfing the
net to violent videos to junk mail messages), loss of community
supports and sense of neighborhood, lack of individual coping skills,
lack of a significant mental health infrastructure, previous history
of abuse, all of the "ism"s (classism, elitism, sexism, racism,
ageism). Every time we try and take out one puzzle piece and make
it the cause of all the violence, we negate the reality of multiple
causes. If only we could get rid of gangster rap, or handguns or
alcohol, then violence would stop. Although such attempts to simplify
are doomed to failure, there is a menu of solutions for each of
the major puzzle pieces. The more people engaged on the solutions
end, the more progress we will make.
fourth idea is
that in order to continue our peacemaking journey we need to be
operating within five concentric circles, five circles that embrace
each other. The innermost is the circle of the self: how am I doing
today with my own anger and stress? Am I spreading it around my
living room? The next circle is that of the family. What am I modeling
for my children and other family members in terms of how I treat
men and women, deal with conflict and my own emotional states? The
next level out is the community. We all wear different hats in the
course of a week. Perhaps we are engaged in a spiritual community,
or involved with our children's school, or in our workplace or driving
children to soccer games as a neighbor. In each of these domains,
or circles of influences, we can be a positive force for peacemaking.
The next circle is the culture: working to change some of the difficult
aspects of our collective awareness. This might involve working
to end racism, or to increase support for mental health services,
or to reduce the stigma associated with getting treatment for drug
problems. The final arena is global: there is much to be done with
eliminating land mines, reducing the flow of arms, improving adverse
health and living conditions and social injustice, which lead to
conflicts that escalate into wars. The point is that at any given
moment we can be operating in one of the circles to help make things
ARE FROM MARS. TOO BAD THEY DIDN'T STAY THERE
WHO SEEK TO BE EQUAL TO MEN LACK AMBITION
perpetrators of violent crimes, and most victims of homicide and
suicide are young males between the ages of 15-24 years. Following
is an exercise that is quite telling. Take a few moments now and
do this exercise in two imaginary boxes:
down the first twelve words that first come to mind for the "act
like a man" box. How do we train boys to behave in our culture?
What qualities do we expect them to demonstrate?
repeat the exercise for the "act like a woman" box.
What twelve words identify how we train girls to behave in our
culture? What qualities do we expect them to demonstrate?
words do we, or other children use, if a girl or boy deviates
from what is expected in their pre-conditioned box?
a list of the steps that you use daily in seeking your own balance
and awareness about gender roles in your life.
leading causes of death for young people in this country are motor
vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide. Depending on where you are
in the country the order may shift, but that is what is killing
and hurting our young people. The training starts early in our culture.
To be a man, one must express certain emotions and repress others.
Anger is the most allowable feeling for male humans; anger is not
encouraged for females, for whom fear and sadness are more desirable.
"act like a man" training manual
means a young boys is supposed to be tough, in control, not cry
or be afraid, hide feelings and make money. He is expected to fight,
tolerate being ignored, play sports, and take various forms of harassment
that will help him be more manly.
"act like a woman" training manual demands that young
girls play the counterpart. If men are to be the heroes, they must
have someone relatively helpless to save. Thus girls can be smart,
but not too smart. They can make money, but not more than their
male companion. They must accept as normal being whistled at, catcalled,
pinched, and accused of having a bad reputation if they seek the
same sexual outlets as young men. They are supposed to be sexy but
not too sexy, passive caretakers who are sweet and polite and interested
in the boy's future more than their own. We train women to be nurturers.
Normally little boys don't play with dolls unless they are power
ranger or wrestling dolls, destined to beat the heck out of each
man who doesn't follow these cultural guidelines is called a wimp,
pussy, sissy or queer. A woman who fails in her standards is a whore,
bitch, slut, dyke or butch. We all lose as a result of such cultural
training. Even realizing that these roles are shifting, that the
boxes are perhaps less rigid for more and more of the population,
the reality is that the consciousness of such change is still not
commonplace when applied to how we are raising our young. It is
not really a big surprise that young men, well conditioned in this
mode of being, begin to act out violently. They are desperately
seeking a diploma in masculinity, which the larger culture suggests
can only be achieved by risky, acting out behaviors.
of their inexperience in recognizing, allowing and expressing a
wide range of human emotions, young men tend to channel any feelings
into anger. The expansive keyboard of feelings, including guilt,
shame, rejection, anxiety loneliness, hurt, fear, depression are
ignored, denied, suppressed, or medicated away with drugs. The individual
then experiences body sensations of being frustrated and tense which
translate and seek release in anger, hostility, rage and ultimately
violent acting out in an attempt to get what he wants. The other
scenario is that the violence is directed inward. In view of the
boxes, it is easy to understand why a teenage girl attempting suicide
will often take five aspirin, leave the bottle on the table and
call three of her friends, while a male in a similar state of mind
will simply take the family gun and blow his brains out. The youth
suicide rate has quadrupled in the last 30 years, with young males
bearing most of this burden. Young males are most often the perpetrators
of violence, as well as the largest percentage of people killed
by homicide and suicide.
solution is to consciously raise boys and girls the same way, in
the sense that every human being is entitled to learn how to be
assertive as opposed to aggressive when dealing with conflict, and
that all young people need to learn about emotional fluency, the
basics of mad, sad, glad and afraid. How do we handle conflict when
it arises between young people?
kinds of gifts do we buy them for birthdays, Kwanza, Christmas,
they support their creative imagination? Do we encourage young boys
to cry when appropriate, and young girls to be assertive, to help
them not get into the above destructive boxes in the first place?
Do we encourage nurturing play in boys and expansive creative play
in girls? Remember,
this is only one of many puzzle pieces, yet it is an arena that
we can directly influence for the better.
Victor La Cerva, MD
La Cerva 200