AS A SOCIETY our dark side is very often masked by shame or denial and represents inconvenient truths to confront. Unfortunately, violence in all its forms – verbal, psychological, emotional, sexual, and physical – seems innate to the human species, for it transcends all races, classes or religions. It has been an integral part of societies since time immemorial.
Owing to its prevalence and deep historical roots it has become socially acceptable, with many acquiescing to it as the status quo. This cultural dimension with its deep historical antecedents and multi-faceted manifestations makes it particularly challenging to confront.
At the school level, teachers are forced to treat with varying forms of violence among children daily, accepting the phenomenon as a reflection of the wider society, a reality lost on many who call upon schools to “fix” the violence problem. Teachers have always argued that children learn what they live.
In the book, Dark Side of Man – Tracing the Origins of Male Violence, Michael Ghiglieri, in parallelling the violent behaviours of primates with humans, argues that male violence is largely innate, a product of millions of years of evolution and thus society must first seek to curb the innate violent tendencies of aggression in humans before we can effectively treat with issues such as domestic violence.
The recent outpouring of outrage against male violence has brought about an opportunity for society to take a deep, logical, pragmatic look at itself, devoid of emotion and hysteria, examining the root causes of all forms of violence, both biological and sociological, to attempt to get a grip on this social evil. The 1.5 per cent of our genetic constitution that separates us from chimpanzees must be the basis upon which we choose to curb our innate primate violent tendencies.
Calls for quick fixes, such as more policing and arming women, while understandable reactions to the emotional pain and trauma that many are lamenting, must give way to scientific analysis and guidance in treating with a problem that is not new.
Given the recent highly publicised incidences of physical violence against women, unfortunately the focus has been on treating with the problem from a skewed perspective – a temptation that must be resisted. What are the ingredients that go into making our young men these dangerous monsters, capable of extreme violent acts as rape and murder? What are the sources of anger that triggers such subhuman behaviour? How do we arrest the propensity to descend into primal violent instincts? How do we recognise the early signs of violent tendencies among our young ones so that targeted interventions can be mounted?
These are the questions teachers confront at the school level in treating with incidences of violence among both male and female students. It is an established fact that childhood exposure to domestic violence can be associated with increased display of aggressive behaviour, increased emotional problems such as depression and or anxiety, lower levels of social competence and poorer academic functioning.
Social scientists have persistently argued that socially deficient homes and communities must be the targets of interventions as a first step in treating with crime and criminality. Herein lies the divergence of perspectives in terms of what forms these interventions should assume and, more importantly, by whom.
Teachers, working with what they have – their own experiences and competencies as well as Student Support Services and in some cases school social workers – target intervention and behaviour reform initiatives with sometimes limited success, owing to the abdication of responsibilities on the part of other social support institutions.
Unfortunately, if the deep-seated anger and trauma is not diagnosed and addressed at the childhood level, such will go on to define the future adult who now becomes a menace to society, exacting revenge for the social/emotional deficits of his/her upbringing, prompting candlelight vigils and protest marches.
In confronting our dark side, we must all recognise that everyone has a role to play in treating with all forms of violence and must be willing to do our part at the home, school, community and national levels in renovating the social fabric of the society, where we make the time to look out for each other.
Our individual and collective social responsibility cannot be replaced by government and is defined by our higher emotional intelligences of compassion, empathy and caring. Challenging human violence begins with deconstructing our inhumane dimensions of greed, power, selfishness and hate, which are the seeds that will later bear the bitter fruit we lament.