As I witness the continuous murders of African-American men in our country and overall violence being expressed in our communities, my initial response is anger. Anger not only because innocent young men are dying, but because the reason that they’re dying is more than racially based. I’ve decided that these events stem from a deeper societal issue that has been active for decades. We live in a nation that honors physical courage (fighting and shooting) as explained by Rollo May, in his book “The Courage to Create”, and silences verbal courage (effectively communicating fears, conflicts and disturbances). Verbal courage is needed to end these acts of violence. As a country, we must change our form of expression from violence to communication.
Since the beginning of civilization, young men are taught that they should be strong, and their duty is to protect. If the male is threatened, he must fight. Superheroes that we’ve watched growing up all fought until they were the victors. Physical courage is not an option if you are male and do not want to be labeled a “coward” in America. If there is conflict, you battle it out, and may the best man win! This message is further solidified with our soldiers at war.
Troops are fighting in other countries miles away and are told that they are protecting the country from further attack. So, again, the message of defeat through physical feat is modeled and honored. Are we offering any other suggestions to society? We’ve been so conditioned for violence that, at times, some of us actually complain over proposed negotiations with enemies. These critics would prefer a bloody massacre. But what does this accomplish? It seems as though the problem never ends; we continue fighting forever.
Whenever we feel there is any harm done, we’ve learned to retaliate. Consider the tragedies that are taking place in cities like Chicago and Ferguson. The people in Ferguson are fighting and rioting as a response to injustice. Gangs in Chicago are fighting over territories. Maybe these events appear solely racially based or gang driven, but in actuality are in the context of a societal theme that is learned–violence. If the prevailing message of protection and defeat was not only displayed by fighting and shooting, the perpetrators of these murderous events could in fact be racists as suggested, but the victims would be alive. The police would not default to shooting as a result of feeling threatened. Gangs would also still exist, but there would be less innocent victims because again, shooting would not be the default for protection in urban communities. After all, don’t words carry more power anyway?
Hasn’t the old fashion saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” proven to be a lie? Words have the power to build up, break down, or provide restitution. This is the type of power that should be displayed and exercised as a country and community. In our media, there should be more coverage on peace negotiations with other countries. In schools, we can teach children and adolescents how to manage their anger and conflicts verbally, instead of fighting. Schools can also provide more outlets for adolescents to have a voice, like counseling, mentors, and arts programs. If we teach adolescents that there are other options when conflicts arise and display positive examples, there would be less violence in their futures, and less people dying as a result of useless violence. Violence is never healing, only damaging, and leaves the residue of pain for generations to come.
As a country, we are given clear training on how to use our bodies to be dominant and violent, and very little training on how to communicate effectively with words. Images of war, television programs and the news show us that violence and physical aggression is the way to protect ourselves. What if the way to win and protect ourselves started with communication instead of violence? Don’t get me wrong, this approach isn’t applicable for every single situation, but I believe it would work for many. All of the power we need is in our tongue. We just need examples of how to use that power.