Saturday, January 26, 2008

Explosive Tendencies

I probably shouldn't writing about this. Going against what seems to be the current popular viewpoint, particularly when you are not an expert, is never a good idea. Under most circumstances I might not chime in, but for this one in particular, I've seen it going on for far too long and I though at least I might put my perspective out there. Carefully.

So I'll add a disclaimer, that says something like bla, bla, bla, I'm not an expert, bla, bla, bla, this is all observation, bla, bla, bla, use your own brain. And of course, positive comments are hugely appreciated, negative ones you should probably keep to yourself. I'm not looking to start a controversy, I just want encourage people to think a little more deeply about this. There is clearly a problem, and we are doing our best to ignore it.

The winds changed after I left high school, with the shift often dominating the news. It started with things like the zero tolerance towards violence in high schools. At the same time we could also see changes in the perspective of parenting too. Parents weren't supposed to spank their kids any more. In fact overall society was pushing for a violence-free life in all sectors.

This is one of those movements that are socially extensive, kinda of like non-smoking. Once it gets going, more and more people jump onto the bandwagon and declare themselves to be on side. More and more programs get funded, and more and more changes gradually show up in our societies. Once the ball starts to move people stop thinking about it, accepting it as fact.

At its heart, getting rid of violence is a great thing. Nobody liked being bullied when they were kids, and it is horrible for parents to beat their kids. From that perspective it is definitely a move toward being more civilized.

However, for all of its intended good, one cannot turn a blind eye towards the apparent consequences.

Humans are lost somewhere in the middle. Straddling a fence. We are not the fully civilized intellectual beings that we like to think of ourselves. Our roots are in nature, we have evolved into our present state, and we are still firmly tied with our former primitive selves. Because of this, we have two distinct sides, our intellect and our emotions. Our intellect is the direction we're headed. We are evolving into truly intellectual beings that preserve themselves because they 'think' to do so. But, we are also still rooted in our past. Our emotions are are much older fight or flee based mechanism for handling the world around us. This duality permeates our existence.

While we can control our emotions to some degree, they are definitely a part of our existence, we cannot deny that. Some cultures allow for looser expression of emotions, some expect that it is under more control. Either way, all cultures have ways of handling emotional outbursts and venting. We have to, we have no choice.

Getting back to our violence-free attempts in society: the underpinnings of violence are often emotional outbursts. Violence is how some people vent their emotions. Anger builds and then erupts into a violent action. The two are related.

Once you make that connection, you have to start thinking that suppressing violence, especially at a young age, might have a significant effect on emotion, in particular the ability to control one's own emotions. Since we all have tempers, and they need to be controlled at times, were we did we learn these skills?

Two little boys in a fight is an age old tradition that teaches both about (a) pecking order, (b) emotional control, and (c) relationships. The need to fight is the need to vent and establish a ranking, very old things, but still buried within us. It is not just the boys, the girls also go at each other although a little less physically.

A fight between two very young boys is far less damaging then a fight between two teenagers. In fact, for kids, the line between playing and fighting is often blurred, it is a little of both. The younger you are, the safer it is to experiment around with your behavior.

When you fight, you get a huge release. As well, there are important lessons that we all need to learn through experience, such as standing up to bullies. You need to conquer your fear and face your oppressors, something that will happen again and again in your life as you age, so you is is best to learn it early. We also learn social skills, such as the consequences of mouthing off to larger people. It is important to know when you are picking a fight with someone, it should never come as asurprise.

If you eliminate violence in schools and don't let the children physically interact with each other, how will they learn to control their emotions? How will they learn to interact with each other in a socially correct manner? There are so many different life-lessons that come from rough-housing with your peers.

But it's not just fighting between children that is effected. At home, without spanking, we've taken away from the parents their key tool in disciplining their children. The lack of discipline also seems to be a serious problem. If you have no 'ultimate weapon', sooner or later the kids are going to figure that out and call you on it. Beyond that, most kids act out as emotional outbursts, so not only are they not getting disciplined, but they are also not learning how to handle their emotions properly. Quiet time isn't sufficient.

You see more and more kids acting out in public. Certainly there are ages like the 'terrible twos' where you expect trouble, but it appears as if its also affecting them when they are older. In fact it seems to affect them right through their entire lives.

We appear to be seeing the incidences of violence get far worse than ever before. Over all there may be less visible violence, but each incident is far more serious. Far more explosive.

This stands to reason, if you suppress our violent nature, and don't teach people ways of venting themselves, then the emotional flare ups will be so much larger than they were in the past. Emotions, like electricity are neither created nor destroyed. You can't wipe out violence without throwing in millions of years of evolution.

We've also seen more kids packing guns, because they don't know how to protect themselves. They are afraid because they've never been in a real fight, so they think that packing a weapon will help protect them. If they knew how to slug people in the head, then they might realize that they don't need the extra help, or that escalating a conflict by pulling a weapon is a seriously dangerous thing to do. Knowledge that they should have learned in kindergarten, or junior high school.

There are just some things you have to learn in life, and it is best that they get taught early.

It is also important to realize that most successful people have very good control of their emotions. There are some notable public emotional break-downs, but in general the outbursts of emotion are delayed and then directed. Our most successful and controlling people have their emotions in check. They should, we shouldn't make choices based on anger, or depression. How would you like it if the president of the United States just picked a fight because he was feeling cranky*. Not good.

*oops, possibly not the best example :-)

If parents want their children to be successful, they have to give them the tools to do so. No self-discipline and a lack of emotional control are not winning attributes. Punishing your kids within reason is, as my parents so often like to point out, is for their own good. Letting them interact together at school helps them to learn to deal with people.

Our noble goal of getting rid of violence appears to have a serious side effect. By removing violence, I think we are suppressing our emotions, not venting them. But because they are there, as an integral part of us, suppressing them just builds them up to the point where they erupt. So, it comes as no surprise that since this anti-violence movement has gained momentum, we've seen more violence, particularly in the form of school shootings or gang violence. These are essentially kids exploding emotionally all over the place because they were never taught how to control themselves.

Clearly, one of the most critical things we need to do to fix our existing school system is to add in emotional teaching along with intellectual teaching. Kids need to be taught how to properly vent. They need to fight, and they need to establish a pecking order. We don't have to like it, but bullies are important lessons that need to be taught to young children. Banning it as a behavior is clearly causing problems, instead we need to admit to it, and find a way to 'teach it', or at very least 'structure it'.

We also need to allow parents to discipline their children in a reasonable manner. It is probably a case-by-case basis, some kids are clearly more difficult and obstinate than others. We don't want to return to the "kids should be seen and not heard" days, but parents should have a tool such as spanking available to them, and they should know how to use it correctly. Parents should never be afraid of their kids.

In the end we all need to admit, that at least for the time being, we are still emotionally driven creatures. Violence is an expression of emotion, and it will stay with us for as long as we have emotional ties, probably a few million years or so. Denial is a bad thing.


  1. If you want to be a successful parent, you need to take time to fully understand what your children need in order to be self-confident, happy, and healthy. Controlling their emotions and letting children get interacted physically in the community gives them lot of exposure and makes children successful. The lack of discipline also seems to be a serious problem now a days, so by keeping children well disciplined right from the beginning we can expect the children to be successful in their life.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the comments. I definitely agree. Well-balanced kids are more likely to be successful kids. If you don't learn both intellectual and emotional self-discipline as a child, it is way harder to learn them as an adult.