|Nathan M. was 13 when he wrote this article. He lives in Portland, Oregon.|
“It is a bad outlook for the world if the spirit of violence takes hold of the mass mind. Ultimately, it destroys the race.” - GandhiViolence is an increasingly real problem in the United States, and in the world. Violence needs to be understood, and addressed. Media is often blamed as a prominent cause for violence. Many other factors contribute to violence. After understanding the nature of violence, it is possible seek solutions to minimize violence.
An overwhelming amount of evidence supports mass media as the culprit when it comes to the birth of violence. Violent television shows, video games and toys promote aggression and destructive behavior. Companies use violence because it sell.
Violent entertainment is often targeted at vulnerable children and teens who are likely to imitate it. Violent entertainment is popular and profitable for manufacturers.
Violent media attract kids and adults alike. Ann Helmke, the founder of a peaceCENTER in San Antonio explains,”The movie Lion King, if you think about it, displays the cycle of violence. And yet at the end, we feel good about it. The good guy beat the bad guy.
Except who decided who the good guy was and who the bad guy was? Why do we feel good? It’s almost like we have to go back again to get more because it never completes itself. We’ve got to feel that feeling again and again.” This popular and addictive quality to violence makes it the sine qua non in many movies. In the mid - 1950s, quality programs were failing TV companies. In response, the violence formula was developed by television networks. The idea behind this theory, was that the more violent and grotesque that movie, the larger audience it would attract. This method worked well. Movies like The Untouchables and Gunsmoke were produced.
Over time society became desensitized. Certain levels of gore of were accepted. It became the norm. Accordingly, publishers increased the amount of violent content and the crowds once again flocked to the theaters. The cycle continues. Nowadays our culture receives violence in the media unflinchingly if not with open arms.
Children are vulnerable to accepting violence. Some violent movies or games are directly targeted at children. Others draw teens because of high ratings. Children have a limited thinking capacity. Two to six year olds, cannot evaluate what they observe, accepting violent behavior to be normal. Children six to twelve years old do not fully understand consequences for violence, and imitate what they see. Characteristics other than a limited thinking capacity sway children to copy violence.
Television programs often mislead gullible children because of positive attitudes toward violence. Almost 40% of television violence is initiated by characters that have desirable attributes, making them favorable role models. Humor is included in at least 40% of violent scenes on television. This leads children to conclude that violence is not objectionable. However, half of the violence displayed on television would be lethal or crippling if it were to occur in real life.
Studies show that fast paced screen violence over stress a child’s brain. Violent images keep feelings and instincts aroused while reducing thinking functions. Children need more real world stimulation in order to develop their brains. Without this stimulation, children may grow up to be impulsive and hyper vigilant. A child watching two hours of cartoons a day is exposed to 500 scenes of violence a year.
These high risk images teach aggressive behavior. Evidence shows that by the time the average American youngster is 18, he or she will have viewed an estimated 18,000 murders on television.
Brandon Tartikoff, former president of the National Broadcasting company tells
“Television did have an affect on me right from the beginning. In first grade, I was part of a four-kid gang that went around imitating TV westerns. We’d disrupt class to play out scenes, picking up chairs and hitting people over the head with them — except, unlike on TV, the chairs didn’t break, the kids did. Finally, the teacher called my parents in and said ‘Obviously he’s being influenced by these shows, and if he’s going to continue in this class you’ve got to agree to not let him watch television any more.’ So from the first to second grade there was a dark period during which I didn’t watch any TV at all. And I calmed down and the gang broke up.”Media violence increases aggression. First person shooting games such Doom or 007 Golden Eye simulate killing.
Michael Cearneal, age 14, opened fire in a Paducah School. Prior to his stealing a gun, he had never shot a real hand gun in his life. Michael shot eight times and hit each time. Each shot was in the head or upper torso. He killed three and paralyzed another. His accuracy and method of shooting at the head was learned on a video game. Media desensitizes a person to violence. Television and video games display violence for its own sake and invite the observer to believe that violence is fun.
Fear is heightened because of screen violence. Horror or fast paced violent films exaggerate the threat of danger. In children, reactions to violence include intense fear, crying, clinging behaviors, stomach aches, nightmares, concern about being hurt or killed and even aversion to common animals. A news article described two children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after watching a horror movie on television. This diagnosis is usually reserved for Vietnam war veterans and victims of physical violence. One of the children was hospitalized for eight weeks. Most specialists agree that the underlying cause of violence is the media and the reason is evident.
Many other factors may cause or contribute to violence. Some suggest that violence is an innate need, or is hereditary. Some experts claim that family and moral issues contribute to violence. Societal issues also add to violence. Racism or poverty can initiate violence.
Substantial evidence maintains that drugs increase violence. Certain views even assert that capitalism boosts violence. Evidently it is difficult to know for sure the roots of violence, but it is advantageous to comprehend the separate theories.
Families can affect violence. Child abuse can greatly promote violence because it teaches children that violence is a typical means to deal with a given situation. Nationwide, there are about 800,000 children that are victims of mistreatment. A lack of, or negative family values may also result in violence.
Generally, a child’s first role models are his or her parents. If parents are abusive or violent, the child is likely to become violent. In essence, a parent’s values, both positive and negative will rub off on a child. A third family issue, failure of support, can influence a child’s aggression. A child or teen relies heavily on the support of family. If neglected, a child will likely turn to drugs or violence.
Society can promote violence in a number of ways. Poverty increases violence by causing a sense of desperation. Hunger is a powerful force that can drive a person to violence.
Many turn to violence simply in order to feed their families. Racism and prejudice initiate the majority of hate crimes. Drug abuse causes violence both through uncontrolled behavior “under the influence”, and in the pursuit of drugs. After crack cocaine was introduced in New York City, homicide rates increased by 7000. Capitalism can increase greed which heightens violence.
Some experts think that violence is not learned, but inevitably innate. One innate theory is that one unavoidably desires to hurt.
Freud, the famous psychologist, wrote in The Ego and the Id,
“Starting from the speculations on the beginning of life and from biological parallels, I drew the conclusion that, besides the instinct to preserve living substance, there must exist another, contrary instinct seeking to dissolve those units and to bring them back to their primeval, inorganic state. That is to say, as well as Eros there was an instinct there was an instinct of death.”This idea is not very popular as there is substantial evidence against it. Other instinctivists uphold the fight or flight theory. The concept of the fight or flight theory is that aggression originated as a defensive mechanism. When an early man met an angry, wild boar, his heart beat and breathing increased, and adrenaline was pumped into his body. This reaction prepared the antediluvian human to exert excess physical effort, either fight the beast or flea from it. This reaction was advantageous for cavemen but can lead to troublesome tussles and avoidable violence today. Behaviorists, scientists that study animals and their habits, agree with instinctivists in that violence emerged as defense.
They go on to conclude that violence was meant to protect one’s life, family or territory. Many also believe that humans have evolved negatively: violence in our species has been grossly inflated.
Animals duel each other frequently, as in mountain goats butting, or wolves fighting for rank, but this violence always serves a propose and almost never results in a death. With man it is different. In the United States alone more than 15,000 people are murdered yearly. Now that the causes of violence have been considered, it is possible to investigate ways to minimize violence. One way to halt the spread of violence is to deal with it at it’s source.
A person can learn how to deal with aggression. One can come to understand nonviolence. By doing so, it may be possible to address much suffering in the world.
The most obvious way to reduce violence is at its sources. Because media is prominent teacher of violence, it should be regulated. Age requirements should be enforced. Parents should be educated on the harmful effects of media violence. Another way to minimize the teaching of violence to children would be to provide support to the neediest families in order to reduce stress in the family.
Hate crimes may be reduced by requiring diversity education in school.
A reevaluation of the foundations of capitalism in order provide a more just society is required. This would mean that the gap between rich and poor could be reduced. Such a solution would reduce violence caused by poverty and greed. Learning to deal with anger and aggression can deflate violence.
Not only is anger emotional stressful, it can be hazardous to ones health. A study at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans reported that the majority of heart attack victims had high levels of hostility, anxiety and depression. This can be explained by the increase in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure that is experienced when one feels rage. Other studies show that bacterial infections increase during periods of stress and anger. Flu, colds and coughs may result.
When angry, blood is redirected to the brain and muscles leaving the stomach churning and the skin feeling clammy. Violent feelings not only harm the victim but also the host. To avoid health risks, control anger and disarm violence one must learn to redirect anger and aggression. Many methods exist including deep breathing, physical activity, meditation and journaling.
All these methods serve to calm the body so that a more healthy and happy life may be achieved. Calming down instead of resorting to rage is rewarding in any situation. The practice of nonviolence is one solution to combat violence in our society. Nonviolent activists such Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. developed tactics to resist violent situations.
Gandhi wrote, “There is no such thing as defeat in nonviolence.” He stressed that one always loses with violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. took up Gandhi’s emphasis of love and nonviolence. He wrote about Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence. In King’s book, Stride Toward Freedom, he lists six principles. Two key principles are that one resists the evil but not the people who are doing the evil acts, and secondly that one may have to accept violence without retaliation. King quotes Gandhi, “Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood.” Historically, nonviolent protests have succeeded. The liberation of India was relatively peaceful, as was the anti-Nazi resistance in Denmark and Norway. The Civil Rights movement in the United States was successful in large part due to the nonviolent teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the newsletter, Lutheran Fellowship Peace Notes, the editor states,
“...nonviolence is not passivity but a wholly different way of struggling against injustice and violence. It takes as much discipline and planning as military options. It offers a markedly different way of power and a much broader menu of tools and tactics than those available to military force.”
Rosa Parks’ action on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama was an act of nonviolent resistance. The teachings and practices of Gandhi, King and others have provided examples that nonviolence can accomplish the transformation of society. Violence is everywhere in America. Our society has forgotten that there are other options to deal with conflicts and frustrations. The media teaches violence. Societal anomalies such as poverty and drug abuse also contribute to violence.
Great and creative leaders point to the better path of nonviolence. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them friends?”
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