Why are people so violent and abusive to each other?
These experiences can be understood in terms of its underlying purposes:
1. The fact that people are different creates a dynamic of comparison and judgement. It evokes the question, “Which group is better and which is worse?” To relieve the painful tension that arises from this “uncertainty,” we try to find ways to reassure ourselves that we are superior, right or better at the expense of those who are different.
2. The different group tends to resent being judged as bad, wrong or inferior. They reciprocate in order to relieve their “one-down” status.
3. The people who are unfavorably judged, feel victimized by those who look at them as lesser. They resent the “unfairness” whereby the other group succeeds where they have failed. Some confuse “equal” with “sameness.” They confuse fairness with getting their way. They seek to defend against these false accusations.
4. These people seek to relieve the pain of their inferiority at the expense of a safe target. They build themselves up by tearing others down.
If we want to stop the conflicts between the sexes, the classes, the races, the religions and the disadvantaged, we need to embrace differences. We must seek understanding, cooperation and compromise.
Why don’t we call our conflicts by their rightful name: anger? There is no violence without anger. But why do we persist in attributing violent behavior to “disgruntled employees,” or “trigger-happy teenagers,” or “stressed out fathers”? It is not the family “dysfunction” that does all the damage – it is the anger of the family members; it is not the parental toxicity that cripples a child’s spirit, it is anger that makes the parents toxic in the first place.
These toxic, dysfunctional people are angry, but we don’t want to deal with it. Anger is an emotion and some pretend they do not have feelings. Confucius said, “Chaos begins when things are not called by their rightful names,” and chaos is what we have in too many of our American neighborhoods, classrooms and bedrooms.
There is no cure for pissed, there is a cure for anger. Anger can be managed and expressed appropriately; pissed cannot. When we use these euphemisms, we cannot solve our anger problems. The word anger gives us a useful handle on what is going on in the real world.
The issue is not differences or unfairness, the issue is the attitudes and lessons that we learn about ourself (“I am a victim,”) about others (“People can’t be trusted to help me,”) and about life, (“Life is just one disaster after another,”) that we must address and correct. In the moment that we experience ourself choosing to express our anger appropriately, “It makes me angry when you ignore me!”) we reverse the downward spirals.
We can relieve our pent up anger from the past and present, by replacing our self-contempt with self-respect. If we can do it consistently, we will be on the way to outgrowing and transforming our self-contempt. We will have earned the right to respect ourself as a worthwhile human being in spite of our faults and imperfections. This is our basis for self-respect.
Self-respecting people have a secret quality that other people do not have. This key quality is the power of choice. They can choose to hit their wife in the face or not. They choose not to because such a choice would be inconsistent with their self-respect. They can use their adult judgment to make more civilized choices, even in the heat of anger.
They also have an identity, they know who it is that is making the choice – the choice is not making itself. They are not responding mindlessly to negative stimuli like a laboratory rat. These facets of self-respect enable us to solve life problems constructively instead of destructively, and to avoid making self-indulgent choices, which will always lead to negative, often fatal consequences.