Everyday Violence

There’s a certain kind of communication that really bothers me and, unfortunately, I’ve been noticing it a lot lately. It’s called violent communication. From parent to politician, violent communication seems to be the law of this land.

It’s possible that many Guyanese, from child hood onwards, spend their whole lives embroiled in it. I know when I was young it was common practice to attack children when they made mistakes. I know that many of my friends were deathly afraid of doing badly in school because of the “ licks” they would get from teacher and parents. I remember the lashes to the palms when I scored miserable results on my mock mathematics Common Entrance exam. Somehow, the logic seemed to go, if I were frightened enough, the chances were higher that I would produce the correct results. In most cases it worked: children would do whatever it took to avoid the pain, including mastering Common Entrance level mathematics ( unfortunately for me, to this day, nothing short of magic can induce an under standing of the nature of fractions and their goings on). How much and for how long did they retain this information when exams were over? Had they been taught the joy of learning? What sort of motivation styles were they picking up to rely on later in life? How emotionally healthy is it for a child to live in fear?

Violence is not limited to physical assault.

Whenever people speak in a way that belittles, blames, coerces, shames, ostracizes, attacks, judges or threatens others, violence is present. It is common practice to denigrate others who behave in ways we find undesirable. I’d like to think that people engage in such tactics because they want to inspire better behavior in others ( and not because they want to be “ right” or want others to hurt). If this is the case, however, it isn’t the best strategy to adopt. If you use pain to motivate others, you cannot expect consistency. For instance, when you’re not around they may revert to their old ways. Furthermore, external pressure can only do so much. Time and time again, people have shown the most amazing creativity and resilience when pursuing goals they have chosen for themselves versus a lack of initiative or willingness when following someone else’s orders. Coercion does not lend a sense of personal responsibility (“ I’m just doing what they told me to do”) and can cause persons to feel apathetic about what they and others do. Worse, it can cause people to feel helpless and not in control of their lives resulting in desperate, anti- social behaviour.

Violence breeds violence. You attack me; I want to attack right back. This helps neither of us get anywhere productive. So, pay attention to the way you communicate with others. Are you constantly telling people what they “ should” be doing? Are you putting them down? Is there another, kinder way to communicate what you want or need from them? It’s quite difficult to break communication pat terns especially when we acquire them from a young age. It is possible, however. We can start by treating our children as intelligent beings with capacity to improve when nurtured rather than battered. We can respect others’ rights to make their own decisions rather than demand compliance with ours. We can engage in thoughtful discussion rather than yelling matches. We can come at each other as friends who just happen to differ in opinion rather than enemies at ideological war.

Originally published in the Guyana Times, October 2011

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