Out in the community and watching the news we can see greed, prejudice, judgment, violence, murder and war. Individual violent acts vary from beating your spouse or child; to the murder suicide of a whole family; to the random killing of whole sections of your own community.
We’ve all wondered how an individual comes to inflict such violence. What happens to a person that makes them capable in making such drastic changes to others’ lives and feel justified… even proud?
Not very many years ago I did my undergraduate psychology and social science degree. During our first year we were asked why we chose to do this degree. I said the following.
“How is one person capable of convincing a whole community of others to kill whole sections of their own community, (as we see in ethnic cleansing) and how individuals can bring themselves to carry it out.”
My psychology tutor responded:
First the leader of the country tells the citizens that they are being over run and denounces pacifists for not doing something to protect their country, their values, their children’s future.
The leader of the country aims to dehumanise the minority group under persecution so that citizens feel they are doing the right thing by getting rid of the offenders. For many, ethnic cleansing becomes nothing more than killing a rodent and their country thanks the individuals for their service.
My sociology tutor responded similarly, adding:
Aspiring politicians introduce a narrative of hate and fear as they describe their country being over run by immigrants, the danger of terrorists among us and our jobs being stolen by queue jumpers who don’t deserve to be here. This narrative appears on television news reports and quickly become normative thinking and the basis for hate in the general community.
At first this narrative explains why we have tough border laws, airport security checks and detention centres but this seems unrelated to genocide. But think about it… this is exactly where Hitler began in convincing the SS to murder Jews and it’s also where a dominant family member begins in convincing their partner they deserve the violence being metered out to them- and it’s the type of power children take on when bullying other children in the playground.
Ask yourself, “How do I feel about those in the LGBQT community, people from the muslim faith, women’s liberationists, men, women, blacks, aboriginals, whites, Asians and migrants?” Do you feel that any of these groups don’t belong in our society? Do you wish something could be done about them? Do you wish they would go away – that they should be locked up, sterilized, shot, gassed, nuked, exterminated? If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of these points then you have a problem because yours is the narrative of an oppressor. A dictator. A bully. A tormentor. A persecutor.
If these feelings come naturally to you I can almost guarantee it’s not your fault. What we see and hear during our childhood can play an extremely important role in forming our social, emotional and physical responses to perceived invaders or to difference.
Parents, families and the wider community shape the way a young person views others. For a child, a respected adult’s actions and speech patterns influence a child’s concept of power, belonging, exclusion, hate and violence. In this vein, violence can become something that’s deserved; which we often see reflected in the saying, “If you don’t like it, go home!”
A child’s attitudes of prejudice, exclusion and hate begin at home. Take a moment to think:
- Do you scream insults at the TV when your football team is losing a game?
- Do you make a joke when you see someone who looks very different to you?
- When disciplining your children, what words do you use?
- Do you demand your children submit to your authority, no questions asked?
- Is it okay for your children to approach you to give reasons that they disagree with your request/decision?
- Do you demand the death sentence within a child’s earshot?
- Do you generalize about other people, religions, cultures or attitudes?
These questions are important for reflecting on the role modelling your children are exposed to on different levels, on an everyday basis. Speaking in a derogatory way about any other person tells your children that there are people in the world who aren’t quite as good as you; that your opinions matter more than theirs; that you deserve better than they deserve; that they deserve what they get! And, what do they get? Should the assylum seeking family go back to where they came from, despite the fact they will be persecuted and killed? Is it really not your problem?
Please consider what I’ve said about the way we speak around children. Prejudice, hate, judgment and violence has to stop and now is a good time.