Almost anywhere you turn violence is on the rise. We are violently at war in Iraq. Every day we read and hear about more senseless death. There is a new outbreak of violence between Israel and Lebanon. That conflict is growing more violent by the day. Around the world there are bloody conflicts erupting every day. The delicate and fragile harmony among humankind always seems under fire and out of sync.
The global violence that is escalating around the world is obvious. The human casualties of this kind of violence are tragic. Not to mention the loss of property and displacement of millions of people.
Unfortunately, for many of us who are reading this, we can detach ourselves from these images because they are far away. It is sometimes easier to just block them out, unless you have a son or daughter in the Armed Services risking their lives every day in one of the violent regions of the world.
The only time in our children's lifetime that we were faced with the horrors of violence and the senseless loss of human life that others see regularly around the world was on 9/11. The violence that some live with every day became painfully real when the Twin Towers fell, the plane crashed in Pennsylvania and the plane crashed into the Pentagon.
Those savage attacks and the senseless loss of innocent human life will haunt many of us till we die. Thousands of people around the country have had their lives literally altered forever.
Five years have passed and life goes on. The families and friends of the victims remember, but many others just continue on their paths unless a new movie or book about September 11th appears.
Let's look at the locally growing violence. It is more subtle, but equally as destructive and debilitating.
A number of recent studies indicate that domestic abuse is escalating around the country. More and more women are coming forward and expressing that they are being beaten by their husbands and/or significant others. The stories that these studies reflect are not isolated incidents where a male partner overstepped his bounds, but rather behavior that has become normative. Too many of the victims felt trapped and believed that this was part of the relationship deal. What a sad commentary on our culture and what people feel is acceptable in a relationship.
In our well educated society, where we have access to so much opportunity and possibility, look at how we speak to one another. On a good day, our language is crude, vulgar and violent. It is not gender biased. It knows no cultural or economic restrictions. Disgusting language is everywhere. For the most part, we are tolerant and accepting. Men and women settle for degrading and demeaning conversations. They often set the stage for future violent interactions.
Early on, our children learn from what they see, hear and watch. If a little boy hears his father screaming at his Mommy, there is a good chance he will grow up believing that kind of behavior is okay. If his Dad hits his Mom, he might believe that is okay.
So much on television, in the movies and in certain music we listen to celebrates a very violent tone. Some, who defend these violent expressions within the arts, feel it is just that, an expression not to be worried about.
None of us is raised in a vacuum. All environmental variables have an impact on how we see the world and the people in it. Early in our development, we mirror behaviors that we have seen. If we are not held accountable, we grow up believing that certain behaviors are okay, even when they are not. Only when we are confronted and told that certain responses are not acceptable, do we begin to review our interactions.
Athletics have always been considered a wonderful venue for building teamwork and character. Twenty years ago, if your behavior was un-sportsman like, you were benched. Some of that behavior and attitude could even cost you a starting position.
Unfortunately, inappropriate violence has even infected sports. Athletes are being taught to foul without getting a penalty, and that is okay. When athletes use their strength inappropriately, it is often referred to as "boys will be boys." For some athletes, their violence is measured by a different standard, a more flexible one which is not just or fair.
When teenagers use as their main principle of conflict resolution that "might makes right," we are in trouble. More and more junior high and high school coeds want to resolve their conflicts through a fistfight. What is even more disturbing is how many parents, especially fathers, endorse that behavior.
Last summer I took an informal survey with my sociology students on two different campuses around the issue of violence. It was amazing to see how similar their responses were. They all admitted that it is socially acceptable to fight physically when trying to resolve a conflict. Many confirmed that it is not uncommon to hear how their friends who are couples escalate into a physical confrontation when arguing.
The question about social behavior when people are out at a club, pub or bar emerges. When asked, most said that there is not a weekend night when there is not some kind of physical altercation that usually starts over nothing.
Recently, there was a story on the national news about a New England Dad who got into a fistfight over nonsense at a little league game. The man he fought died. That out of control, violent behavior not only killed a little boy's father, but it also destroyed two families.
Road rage is another form of violence that is escalating every day. Men and women, young and old, are all overreacting over traffic issues that cause the person who feels victimized to take matters into his or her own hands. More often than not, that reaction only puts a greater number of people at risk.
How do we address the problem of escalating violence, especially in a culture that seems to tolerate it as a part of everyday life? First, we have to accept the basic principle that violence is not the first recourse when trying to resolve a conflict. School, family and community must endorse and practice that principle.
Parents need to reinforce that "might does not make right." Children need to grow up believing from when they are very young that you never hit your mother, your sister, your girlfriend or your spouse. There must always be another way of dealing with conflict and stress.
Schools have to work harder at teaching conflict and mediation skills. They must use them at school so students can learn the skills and concepts and practice them.
Our schools have to become safe places so that every student, no matter what his or her issue or reputation, can feel safe and protected. If students violate the code of non-violence, they must be given a consequence, which holds them truly accountable.
Students of all ages must hear their teachers say that violence as a means of conflict resolution is wrong. They must hear their teachers say that hitting as a means of conflict resolution is always wrong, especially when she is a woman and you are a man.
Violent actions and violent words will only become less if we work in concert with each other. As adults, we need to more consistently model non-violent behavior and speech, if we hope the next generation will be less violent towards each other. It is hard because for many, violence has become a way of life.