December 14, 2012
My Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As I’m sure is the case with all of us who are parents and/or work with children and parents - my heart sank when I heard the terrible news and thought about all the children and families – not just in Connecticut, but across our country - who will be impacted by this unimaginable act of violence, timed as it is at a time of year when for many of us, our traditions revolve around the ideal of “peace on earth.”
In response to senseless acts such as these- in part because they seem so utterly senseless and unimaginable - it is not uncommon for the media to look for explanations for the behavior of the perpetrator, who in nearly every case, is a male. Often, the explanation that is evoked is that of the “aberrant male;” that is, the male whose biology, development, or socialization were in some way deviant from the norm. And deviations can often be found. After all, who in his right mind would do such a thing? But what is too often overlooked is that violence is not always attributable to mental illness, nor is it always a product of “under-socialization” or “deviant” socialization. Violence is a direct product of normative socialization; it is a consequence of our society’s socialization of its members – especially boys and men – to believe that violence – and/or the threat of violence – are acceptable ways of resolving conflict. Statistics on intimate partner violence attest to this in a most sobering way. I am saddened to think that many of the children killed today – especially but not exclusively the boys - had at some point in their young lives probably played a violent video game – perhaps many. Beyond depicting male figures killing each other off, how many of these games endorse violence against women? Before today, how many people had these children “killed” or seen “killed” on TV, or in movies? My guess is many. But young children rarely consider the prospect of themselves or someone they know being potential victims of the very violence to which they become so desensitized as they grow up. We grown-ups know better.
As mental health care providers and agents of social justice I think it is our responsibility to do what we can within our spheres of influence to help put an end to the violence that so permeates our society. This is far more easily said than done, as it requires that we examine our own values closely and critically. But it is eminently worth the effort.
How difficult is it? I’ll close with this: Once upon a time, as I was giving a lecture in a course on the psychology of men and masculinity, I had a Power Point slide up that described one of the adverse consequences of normative male socialization as “predisposes boys and men to engage in unnecessary violence.” A female student raised her hand and said (with all due respect): “Only a man would say that.” Intrigued, I asked what she meant, and she in turn asked: “What is necessary violence?” Imagine my reaction. After class, I immediately edited the slide and took another, sobering look at my own perspective on violence. I have been forever thankful to her for that comment.
Respectfully – and still hopeful of the prospect of Peace on Earth,