The Case for Nonviolence

17 Jan 2013

The series of shootings that America has witnessed over the last few years are very unfortunate. They have left the world shocked, the most recent one being the Connecticut shooting.

When we ponder on how we can avoid incidents like this, the very first thing that comes to mind is that weapons must not be so easily available to people. A recent ABC news report indicates that there are more gun retail stores than grocery stores in the US. When we have not provided education in non-violence or equipped with tools to control their aggression, we cannot afford to have so many gun stores making it easy to pursue deadly acts of violence.

Aggression can occur in anybody; it is quite natural. But one should be taught how to handle that aggressive tendency in a healthier way. We need to teach our kids how to handle their negative emotions. This is a necessity today.

I have my reservations about the impact that violent video games have on young minds. If children are used to shooting people on the screen, and killing is just a game, they could get immune and insensitive to acts of violence. It becomes difficult for them to develop a sense of respect toward life; anybody else's or even their own. The young man behind this latest incident shot his own mother and then at strangers, before shooting himself. When video games, TV and movies glorify violence, they make such a strong impression on young minds that playing out those violent scenarios can turn into an aspiration for them. Without proper attention and guidance, children may not as easily distinguish between the real and virtual worlds, and therefore may not fully understand the consequences of their actions. It is appalling to think that the violence on screen (TV or video) could spill over into families and classrooms.

It is shocking to hear that the young man behind this incident was a shy and intelligent student with no obvious symptoms of violent tendencies. Before we are quick to blame such people as culprits, let us not forget to see the victims inside them. Potential causes of aggression in young minds could be broken families and hostile environments, limited awareness about their own mindsets, lack of much needed emotional support, and most of all, lack of education in universal human values. The shooter was reportedly good at academics, but his fragile emotional state led him to an act of insanity. To me, education is not just about imparting information to children but ensuring well-rounded development so that they can grow to be caring and responsible adults.

One impact of increased time spent in the virtual world is that children might not get enough physical exercise. They have more energy than grown ups do but if that energy is not channeled properly at the physical level, it goes deeper within and then finds its way out through extreme emotional outbursts. This link may not be very apparent but physical exercise is also related to emotional well being. Even when they are babies, we do not let them cry enough, and shut them up by putting pacifiers in their mouths. A little bit of crying is healthy for babies; it is good exercise for their lungs and helps them to express themselves. In fact, crying once in a while is very good even for adults.

Apart from teaching techniques to handle stress and aggression, we also need to place the ideals that are worth aspiring for before our children. There is a need to instill pride in being peaceful. For this, we must inculcate an attitude of service from a very young age. If young adults learn the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from helping others, they will experience depth and meaning to their understanding of life and they will be more likely to stay away from senseless violence.

One of our not for profit organizations, the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) conducted a week-long nonviolence education program, called YES!, in a Chicago public school (Walt Disney Magnet School), to 612 students which reduced school suspensions from 252 in the previous school year to 82 suspensions.

During the last eight years, 36,427 students have participated in the YES! Program in 123 schools in 26 school districts in 14 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington State, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.) Similar programs have been conducted in Canada, Europe, and Asia as well. The testimonies of these students, teachers and the principals speak about their transformation and in no uncertain terms indicate the need of such education.

This life is a very precious gift from God. It holds infinite possibilities, and can become a fountain of joy and happiness. The role of education is to nurture human values in children so that they are able to make life a celebration, not a tragedy.