With the passing of another International Women’s Day, during which much attention around the world has again been focused on tackling violence against women, I would like to explain why none of the initiatives currently being proposed will achieve anything unless we acknowledge, and act on, the cause of this violence.
So let me briefly explain the fundamental cause of violence in our world, including the cause of violence against women, and invite you to do something very personal and effective about it.
Perpetrators of violence learn their craft in childhood. If you inflict violence on a child, they learn to inflict violence on others. The terrorist suffered violence as a child. The individual who perpetrates violence in the home, in the schoolyard or on the street suffered violence as a child. The man who inflicts violence on women suffered violence as a child.
If we want to end violence against women, then we must finally end our longest and greatest war: the adult war on children.
How can I claim that violence against children is the fundamental cause of all other violence? Consider this. There is universal acceptance that behaviour is shaped by childhood experience. If it was not, we would not put such effort into education and other efforts to socialize children to fit into society. And this is why many psychologists have argued that exposure to war toys and violent video games shapes attitudes and behaviours in relation to violence.
But it is far more complex than this and, strange though it may seem, it is not just the ‘visible’ violence (such as hitting, screaming at and sexually abusing) that we normally label ‘violence’ that causes the main damage, although this is extremely damaging. The largest component of damage arises from the ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence that we adults unconsciously inflict on children during the ordinary course of the day. Tragically, the bulk of this violence occurs in the family home and at school. See ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.
So what is ‘invisible’ violence? It is the ‘little things’ we do every day, partly because we are just ‘too busy’. For example, when we do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal communication system. When we do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioural dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do).
When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.
The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However, parents, teachers and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioural responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioural outcomes actually occur.
For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behaviour that is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.
However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. This has many outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for nature because the individual will now easily suppress their awareness of the feelings that would tell them how to act most functionally in any given circumstance and they will progressively acquire a phenomenal variety of dysfunctional behaviours, including some that are violent towards themselves, others and/or the Earth.
From the above, it should also now be apparent that punishment should never be used. ‘Punishment’, of course, is one of the words we use to obscure our awareness of the fact that we are using violence. Violence, even when we label it ‘punishment’, scares children and adults alike and cannot elicit a functional behavioural response. If someone behaves dysfunctionally, they need to be listened to, deeply, so that they can start to become consciously aware of the feelings (which will always include fear and, often, terror) that drove the dysfunctional behaviour in the first place. They then need to feel and express these feelings (including any anger) in a safe way. Only then will behavioural change in the direction of functionality be possible.
‘But these adult behaviours you have described don’t seem that bad. Can the outcome be as disastrous as you claim?’ you might ask. The problem is that there are hundreds of these ‘ordinary’, everyday behaviours that destroy the Selfhood of the child. It is ‘death by a thousand cuts’ and most children simply do not survive as Self-aware individuals. And why do we do this? We do it so that each child will fit into our model of ‘the perfect citizen’: that is, obedient and hardworking student, reliable and pliant employee/soldier, and submissive law-abiding citizen.
The tragic reality of human life is that few people value the awesome power of the individual Self with an integrated mind (that is, a mind in which memory, thoughts, feelings, sensing, conscience and other functions work together in an integrated way) because this individual will be decisive in choosing life-enhancing behavioural options (including those at variance with social laws and norms) and will fearlessly resist all efforts to control it or coerce it with violence.
So how do we end up with men who inflict violence on women, including the women in their own life? We create them.
And can we do anything to end this violence? Yes we can. Each one of us. Here is the formula, briefly stated:
If you want a boy (or girl) who is nonviolent, truthful, compassionate, considerate, patient, thoughtful, respectful, generous, loving of themself and others, trustworthy, honest, dignified, determined, courageous and powerful, then the boy (or girl) must be treated with – and experience – nonviolence, truth, compassion, consideration, patience, thoughtfulness, respect, generosity, love, trust, honesty, dignity, determination, courage and power.
So if we want to end men’s violence against women, we must stop inflicting violence on children. Primarily, this means giving every person, child and adult alike, all of the space they need to feel, deeply, what they want to do, and to then let them do it (or to have the feelings they naturally have if they are prevented from doing so). In the short term, this will have some dysfunctional outcomes. But it will lead to an infinitely better overall outcome than the system of emotional suppression, control and punishment which has generated the incredibly violent world in which we now find ourselves.
Each one of us has a simple choice. We can acknowledge the painful truth that we inflict enormous violence on our children and respond powerfully to that truth. Or we can keep deluding ourselves and continue to observe, powerlessly, as the violence in our world proliferates. What is your choice?
Biodata: Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is here.