Violence among teenagers and adults is escalating everywhere. You cannot go to a social or sporting event where inappropriate social behavior does not erupt. Recently, many of us were shocked and appalled as we read about a mother, who while watching a girls' basketball game, went ballistic and started hitting another spectator with a plastic bottle.
Recently I was talking to a number of college coeds who indicated that there is not a club or pub around where violence has not become almost normative behavior. These same college students indicated that even the upscale places are infected with these same kinds of behaviors.
What is troubling is that violence as the first strategy for settling conflicts has almost become socially acceptable. Conflict resolution through conversation is rarely being used as a means to diffuse escalating hostilities. "Let's beat the other person up and ask questions later..." seems to be the mantra for young people and adults alike.
A couple of years ago I was in New Orleans for the National Championship for College Football. It was the year Florida State and Virginia Tech played. While waiting on the long line to enter the stadium, spirits were high. Strangers from all over America were connecting, sharing stories and having a great time.
There was a lot of pushing, primarily due to the intense number of people trying to enter the stadium. One minute people were laughing and kidding and the next minute a few feet ahead of me a riot almost broke out. A man in his thirties felt he was being purposely pushed by two guys behind him. Heated words were exchanged and threats of violence were made. Myself and two other guys got in the middle to try to calm things down.
The man most agitated was a young lawyer; the two other guys were business executives. I found that out from the guys who were standing around waiting for the riot to happen. I said to myself, "these guys are nuts, if they get arrested for inciting a riot they could potentially damage their careers forever."
What I realized that day was that some people think might makes right. They think they are invincible because of their power and/or occupation. Additionally, we as a society fuel this growing infection because we do not hold people accountable. We have come to accept that "social violence" is a part of the American landscape. It is out of control and more and more innocent people are being victimized.
If you look at the most popular video games, they are the ones that deal with violence. Paintball madness is a new craze. People are making a fortune selling paintball guns, clothes and other accessories. Paintball parks are springing up all over the place. It has become a new bonding experience for fathers and sons.
However, it subtly encourages and sanctions a form of violence that is in a controlled setting. Teenagers and adults are getting out of control. People are getting hurt. Sometimes when that adrenaline is running high, it impairs one's judgment. There are too many stories of teenagers acting recklessly with their paint guns. They are shooting at cars, randomly shooting at kids on bikes and shooting at innocent people walking on the street.
What is fueling the rise in violent acts? A major factor is the lack of accountability. In too many instances we make excuses and don't hold our children or ourselves accountable when they or we act out violently. Too often schools are soft on violence.
Violence wears many faces. It ranges from the overt fistfight in the cafeteria to the aggressive pushing and shoving in the halls, to threatening to hurt others as a power play.
TJ is seventeen. He grew up in a violent environment his entire life. His culture tolerated men being physically abusive to women and using violence as a means of disciplining children.
When TJ was a little boy, he used the stove without permission. His mother's significant other took TJ's little hand and put it on a hot burner so he would not do it again. Then TJ was beaten with a strap and sent to his room.
At age ten, TJ took money from his mother's pocketbook. Again her significant other said he would discipline TJ. He put TJ's hand on the front burner of the stove and told him if he stole again he would burn both of his hands the next time. He beat TJ with a strap and locked him in his room for a week.
These horrific stories of abuse have only been told recently for the first time. When asked why, TJ said he was afraid. He is talking now because he realizes that he has so much pent up rage inside and he doesn't want to explode anymore.
His rage and violence have already gotten him into much trouble. He wants to break the cycle. He does not want to use violence as his way of dealing with conflict. However, he does admit to his fear of being made fun of if he attempts to act more gently and use conversation to resolve his conflicts.
TJ's story is despicable. Unfortunately, it is representative of a growing number of young men and women who are aggressively violent. More often than not, they have been the victims of violence from early childhood. For some of them, they know no other way.
We must break this cycle. Our children must be empowered early on to have the courage to come forward if they are being victimized.