One of the teachings in my faith is the avoidance of anger. It warns repeatedly of the dangers of getting angry and the dire consequences of those who are consumed by anger. In a very practical application of this teaching, Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, answered a companion who asked him to give him advice saying, ‘Do not get angry’. The companion asked again for advice and the prophet responded, ‘Do not get angry’. The question was repeated several times and each time the response was the same.
Patience at the time of anger is a great characteristic. As another teaching states, “the strong is not the one who overcomes people by his strength but the strong is one who controls himself while in anger”.
In the wake of an increasing number of violent incidents here in our schools and even more violent and murderous incidents in schools in the United States, 18 so far for this year, all attention is focused on the causes of such terrible acts by young people.
What drives a young person to buy an extremely powerful gun, go to his former school and gun down 17 innocent school children? Equally, what drives a child here in Barbados to carry a knife to school and stab a schoolmate? It doesn’t make any sense, but with the increasing number of violent incidents, we, the onlookers, are seemingly becoming immune to the impact.
Several commentators have argued that violence among young people is not new and have given examples from the past. I agree to some extent, but what we are experiencing today, in my opinion, is much more frequent and widespread. I also agree that social media has made us more aware of its prevalence.
In the US their struggle is the ease of access to such high-powered weapons. It is mind boggling that anyone, especially young people, can simply walk into a gun store and purchase a high-powered weapon. Something is fundamentally wrong when one can uphold the right to bear arms in support of such easy access to weapons that can cause widespread misery and murder. The US has gone to war with several nations over its claim that these countries are producing weapons of mass destruction. Yet in its own backyard it cannot prevent a 19-year-old from legally buying a weapon of mass destruction and using it to kill innocent young people.
In Barbados we must be concerned. Something is wrong that has caused us to have an increasing number of violent incidents in our schools involving the use of knives. What prevents the use of knives from escalating to the use of firearms? Every citizen of this country must be concerned, every parent must be concerned, every politician, every teacher, every priest, everyone.
I do not believe there is one cause or one solution, so every person who is trying to figure this out and talking about it must be listened to and acknowledged. This requires a concerted effort on everyone’s part to better our society and remove the need and the inclination to resort to violence.
In the wake of the most recent school tragedy in the Florida an attempt was made to link the perpetrator to mental health issues. But several people have dismissed this diagnosis. Others have found it interesting that whenever the perpetrator of such crimes is white, the trend is to link their behaviour with mental illness, but if another race is involved, the explanation is entirely different – religiously motivated, criminal etc.
I came across a very interesting article titled, How to Stop Violence: Mentally ill people aren’t killers. Angry people are, written by Laura L. Hayes. She makes the case that “violence is not a product of mental illness; violence is a product of anger. When we cannot modulate anger, it will control our behaviour.”
How true is that statement in the context of what we are witnessing today among our young people? Many analysts point out that many human beings today are increasingly angry. Our young people especially are seemingly angry.
“Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly ‘break’ and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger. Most homicides are committed by people with a history of violence. Murderers are rarely ordinary, law-abiding citizens, and they are also rarely mentally ill. Violence is a product of compromised anger management skills.”
I see a clear association between what Hayes is saying and what is actually happening in our society. Our young people are responding to situations in a rage, in anger. Watch the videos as they go viral, not for entertainment, for research. See the monster unleashed when these young people get into a rage. They are unstoppable.
Hayes continues: “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the reference book used by mental health professionals to assign diagnoses of mental illness, does very little to address anger. The one relevant diagnosis is intermittent explosive disorder, a disorder of anger management. People with IED tend to come from backgrounds in which they have been exposed to patterns of IED behaviour, often from parents whose own anger is out of control. But the DSM does not provide a diagnostic category helpful for explaining how someone can, with careful advance planning, come to enter an elementary school, nursing home, theater, or government facility and indiscriminately begin to kill.”
“The attribution of violent crime to people diagnosed with mental illness is increasing stigmatization of the mentally ill while virtually no effort is being made to address the much broader cultural problem of anger management. This broader problem encompasses not just mass murders but violence toward children and spouses, rape, road rage, assault, and violent robberies. We are a culture awash in anger.
“Anger disorders are a product of long-term anger mismanagement. They are a pathological misdirection of normal aggressive feelings. Anger is, at its essence, a part of the basic biological reaction to danger, the fight or flight response. The physiological shift makes us stop thinking and mobilize for immediate action, as though our life depends on it. It is a primitive response, and very powerful. Anger prepares us to stand our ground and fight. It helped our ancestors survive, but in today’s complex technological world, it is often more hindrance than help. The angrier you feel, the less clearly you can think, and therefore the less able you are to negotiate, take a new perspective, or effectively handle a provocation.
“The violence that is a part of anger disorders is fueled by chronic repressed rage that has found no socially acceptable outlet. It is fostered by families in which adults behave in violent, intimidating ways or in which anger is tightly repressed. In either situation there is no appropriate model for the safe or constructive expression of anger.”
I began my column today using my faith teachings on a subject that clearly is very relevant to what is happening in our society today. It is but one element of the cause, I know there are several more but we must attack these causes one by one until we can find a solution that reduces or removes this violent trend in our country. The alternative, God help us all.