What could cause kids to use violence so easily? To many adolescents, their peer group is the ‘we’ approving of the target, and that makes certain violent acts not just acceptable but necessary if it forms part of their identity. Members of the group may say things like, ‘This is what we do.’ Any statement about ‘who we are’ makes it an identity thing. But that isn’t unusual because violence plays a major part in adult identity too. It is often said that Australia forged its identity through the violence at Gallipoli, even though the difference there is the bravery involved.
I believe the main cause of random violence is that living in an adversarial society such as we do means a big part of our identity, our sense of who we are, comes from two ways in which we compare our attributes and achievements against those of other people. One way is by competing with others to gain knowledge, power, expertise or wealth, so we feel somehow superior to, or more important than, others. But that often requires incredibly hard work and dedication. Some people prefer the second way of gaining a sense of superiority or status. Domination is an easier form of competition, which usually involves the use of force or violence to ‘put others down.’
People judging themselves by using either competition or domination find that they are better than some and not as good as others. So, even those who are the best at something may be tempted to use the ‘put down’ method in other situations. All in all, the adversarial base for an identity divides people and is a breeding ground for violence.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to the adversarial base. We also gain part of our identity by how we use our individual differences to help each other achieve and progress, rather similar to what happens in nature. Instead of comparing ourselves against each other, we share our knowledge, skills and wealth. People with this outlook gain their sense of importance to each other rather than against each other. This cooperative base tends to unite people and, therefore, reduces the level of violence.
We may never be free of our adversarial ways but, if we are really serious about reducing violence, we need to put more effort into changing the messages we pass on to our children in our entertainment and the heroes we create for them. As individuals, we could start by deciding to adopt the attitude that, ‘there is no one in the world more important than me and no one in the world less important than me.’ That frees us from the competition-domination, status-seeking game and a whole new way of relating to other people opens for us to explore. This is explored in Travelling The Road of Peace and Happiness.