I overheard a conversation today in which it was purported that violence is abnormal and anyone who lashes out violently must be mentally ill. I was standing in line next to the couple in at a local Wal-Mart (yes, I shop at Wal-Mart); so was privy to a great deal of the conversation. It was only moments later that this same couple suddenly began swearing loudly, flung their cart full of scanned items across the aisle where it slammed into a shelf of summer clearance merchandise, and stormed out of the store. I chuckled at the dichotomy of expressed thought and displayed action. On the way home I honked angrily and flipped off a driver who cut me off. Is violence abnormal?
At home I sat near my backyard pond and watched my Koi swimming peacefully; grazing on roots and occasionally skimming the top for edible debris. I watched for the remainder of the morning and did not observe a single confrontation in my pond. There were near collisions without altercation, and tidbits of food pursued without aggression. Do fish fight? Aside from the infamous fighting Beta, has there ever been a all out brawl between trout documented? How about the guppy; has anyone ever seen a group of guppies riot? Or a salmon slap fest? We see crows killing other birds, and sparrows dive bombing crows. We see wolves and coyotes fight over food, territory, or dominance. Horses fight for similar reasons; and just about every species takes part in aggressive acts within their group. Are they all abnormal, mentally ill? What about Homo sapiens? Is violence among humans an indication of mental illness; and if so, what degree of violence is the threshold between normal and abnormal?
Just about anyone who has been around a toddler will tell you that they bite, kick, and hit. These are traits that we parents teach our children not to do. We teach our children to express their anger and frustration with words or to control the emotions to such an extent that they become buried and perhaps lead to excessive submissiveness or other issues which as adults may lead to psycho-therapy. Very young children naturally throw toys, stomp their feet, fling whole bodies to the floor and writhe or thrash with rage. They bite if they don’t get what they want, and they kick or hit in frustration or anger at having things taken away. And we adults punish them for these natural behaviors, sometimes spanking, swatting, or slapping hands while we say “don’t hit” (now that’s a dichotomy of words and actions). By the time a child reaches school age, they are expected to interact with others without any form of aggression; of those without pre-school or socialization prior to elementary education most children fail during their first days in a classroom.
As a society we speak out against violence but at the same time we promote violence in just about everything we do. From the sports we play to the movies we watch we incorporate violence into our lives. Sports like football, boxing, ultimate fighting, hockey are multimillion dollar businesses. The wrestling industry is promoted to children through mass marketing of action figures and other toys. As parents we may chose to not purchase such toys as guns or swords; but our children soon discover that a finger and thumb can be a gun and a stick becomes a sword. Rather than banning our children from these instruments shouldn’t we instead teach them their proper uses? Movies for adults and children contain scenes or at minimum the suggestion of violence. Examples of children’s movies are: Monsters Inc., Transformers, The Lion King, UP, and I would guess any Disney or Pixar movie ever made (please correct me if I am wrong and tell me what movie does not contain violence). For adults it is difficult to find a movie that does not have some form of violence. Of course this is nothing new; recall the early silent films, the old radio shows, Aesop’s Fables, and the Greek Tragedies. Violence is not new to this world; it is not unique to this century or our current society. Violence and aggression are innate traits in Homo sapiens; even our religions are evidence of our propensity for violence.
If we can understand that violence is simply a part of human nature, that it is a part of our ‘fight or flight’ reaction; perhaps we can begin to address the issues of violence in our society. As we attempt to subdue these urges in our children and ourselves; we also promote these impulses through our media and entertainment industries. How can we expect to decrease the incidence of child/spousal abuse, workplace/school violence, road rage, or hate crimes; while our everyday lives are inundated with images and messages of violence? Simple common sense tells us we cannot. We must change our messages before we can change our behaviors.