Human Needs and Armed Violence

I have worked in the field of peace building since 2009, delivering training about non-violent communication, conflict mediation and coordinating projects at a national level to develop the potential of young people from communities affected by crime, through Martial Arts. And yes, all of these are related to human needs and armed violence.

So let´s start from the beginning. Human needs! And by NEEDS I do not mean any kind of material thing that you may desire. Using Galtung´s word “A need should be distinguished from a want, a wish, a desire, a demand. Thus, one aspect of need is tied to the concept of necessity” (GALTUNG Basic Human Needs Approach)

There are many basic human needs that we could explore, but for the sake of this article, I would like to focus on the need for belonging, identity, security and fun. Can you recognize these needs in yourself? How would you feel if you were left out of a group, wandering alone and not fitting in? Have you ever asked yourself a question like “who am I?”, “to which tribe do I belong?” “How can I fit in?” Have you ever felt awkward in certain places, as if you didn’t´ belong there? What would you do and what would be your thoughts if you lived under bombings and shootings? Would you be worried about your career or your survival? Have you ever thought about what defines you? What you couldn’t lose in order to still be you? I´m sure you have felt bored before, how was it? What went through your mind? What was available for you to do?

All of these questions will lead to your needs! They are so special and dear to us, that we will do anything to have them met. Yes, I do mean ANYTHING! It depends on where you are, what surrounds you, what resources you have available and how good your support system is. The challenge is that even though our needs are dear to us, they are also usually hidden, and most of us go through life unconscious of what we are trying to fulfill. But, each one of us creates a personal strategy to achieve this fulfillment, or makes several attempt to get there. Therefore, let’s talk about STRATEGY!

Strategy in this article means your choices, actions and behaviors done in order to have certain needs met. For example, let’s say that a group of people have the need to belong to a group, to be recognized as a member, to be seen and have an identity. Some individual might choose to join the Freemasons, some other individuals might choose to join a football team, to join a gothic tribe or even a criminal gang. The needs ARE THE SAME for everyone, what changes are the strategies chosen to have them met. Does this make sense to you? You might be wondering why someone would “choose” to join a gang, right? Surprise! The “criminals” have the same needs that you have! So what is the difference? As the scope for this question is very big, because it goes from child soldiers in Africa, to ethnic gangs in the Middle East, I will have to zoom in on the favelas of Brazil (but, trust me, at the end of the day all of these dynamics are pretty much the same). When we talk about strategies, we need to understand the context and resources of individuals, as the chosen strategies are directly related to these. If you come from a middle class background, from a supportive family that pays for your education and invests in your well-being, you can be certain that you have available a good range of resources to build your strategy. Now, think about a young boy/girl that lives in a slum, affected by crime and violence, with no good options for entertainment, with cases of domestic violence, a poor quality of education and living under a survival mode to protect themselves against shootings. In the same slum a group of young boys from 14 to 20 gather together to sell drugs, they carry heavy guns, which make them look powerful and cool. They have access to fun parties, expensive items and they have status, they are seen and respected by others. If you are that young boy wandering around this slum feeling bored and experiencing a lack of meaning in your life, a gang can be the perfect response to fulfill your needs. Once you join a gang you have status, identity, power, you belong somewhere, you have a role and you have fun! You see how compelling it can be?! You and the young boy feel the same needs, you have different resources and context. Therefore, you chose different strategies.

This is the relation of unmet human needs and armed violence. The lack of political willingness to invest in equality, education and human development forms a fertile soil for violence. As long as the government institutions offer proper better conditions for people to fulfill their needs in a healthy and secure way, violence and gangs will keep arising.

If community based NGOs want to succeed in violence prevention they need to offer a fun, engaging, creative strategy so the young people choose them instead of the gangs. Their environment must be cool in their eyes, offer belonging, status and the opportunity to develop an identity. There are great initiatives that use Martial Arts and Circus/acrobatics to reach out to this specific public. The most troublesome young people might not want to join music or art classes, but they usually feel attracted to activities that offer more adrenaline and a sense of adventure.

I strongly recommend you to find out more about Fight for Peace, from the slums of Rio de Janeiro to the world. In addition the Phare Circus of Cambodia, which has an incredible work with arts and acrobatics.

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