“Human beings are like parts of a body, created from the same essence. When one part is hurt and in pain, the others cannot remain in peace and be quiet. If the misery of others leaves you indifferent and with no feelings of sorrow, you should not be called a human being.” ~ Sa’adi, thirteenth century Persian poet.

 Violence is a collective experience. If one suffers we all suffer. If enough violence permeates culture, society, families, and institutions the populace will become numb. Once this happens violence is free to metastasize.I did a brief review of this weeks top news stories. It was hard to find a piece of journalism where violence was not a part of the story. I reviewed the Zimmerman case, the North Korean ship with the missile on board and captain attempting to take his own life, Snowden’s asylum in Russia, Russia’s massive war games, a man crashing into a motel, the Michael Dunn murder case, the infamous Zeta’s drug cartel in Mexico, the military sexual assault bill, the Invisible War regarding military sexual assault, online sextortion of teens, Neo Nazi arrests, doctor arrested on four slayings, death and violence in Egypt, Jodi Arias and the death penalty in Arizona, the Yarnell, Arizona killer fire, 255 suspected child predators are snared, and the body of a missing Los Angeles girl is found in a trash can. I was exhausted and not feeling much joy.

I hardly made a dent in related stories and horror.

Violence appears to sell and people make money from telling us all the awful things that are happening locally, nationally, and internationally. Almost every story contained actual or implied violence.

We then wonder why children, teens, young adults, and adults join in with seemingly random acts of violence. After all, it is everywhere.

I am a believer that it is hard to maintain a balance when surrounded by negativity. I don’t turn on the news unless I feel I have to for work purposes. I avoid scanning the Internet news unless I feel I need to. I hear enough horror for eight hours a day working as a psychotherapist.

Is money from violent media the reason we appear to have a love affair with violence? Or is it something else?

If we weren’t hearing about violence, murder, rape, shootings, suicide, hate crimes, drug cartel beheadings, and all that stuff what would journalists be writing about? There is something shocking about all the horror that takes place every minute of the day. But why do we want to hear about it?

I have some theories.

Theory #1    Violence sells. As long as there is money to be made many do not care about long term consequences or collateral damage.

Theory#2    Survivor guilt. As long as it didn’t happen to you or a loved one you can rest easily knowing you were spared horror this time, but you may feel guilty that you were spared. Your guilt may unconsciously cause you to seek out more stories that produce more fear and more of that feeling that you survived.

Theory #3    Addiction. Fear is addictive. Horror is stimulating. It kick starts fear and the drugs we already have in our body will respond if we are stimulated with enough bad stuff. People can become addicted to violence. This doesn’t mean they like it, just like the alcoholic or drug addict does like doing drugs or alcohol. People often don’t know how to stop. They can’t initially imagine life without one of their vices.

Theory #4    Repetition Compulsion. Anyone who has any history of violence will be drawn back to the scene of the crime. We are vicarious observers of bad things partly because we know or have known someone who has experienced bad things.

Theory #5    Trance. Violence can place a person in a trance. There is something unsettling and disturbing about violence. It has a numbing effect. This too is related to #3, addiction.

Theory #6    Preparedness. Violence is instructional. Surviving violent acts is also instructional. If we watch people in violent situations and hear about what they did to survive or how they perished we learn something about survival. Just like training for being a better downhill skier you can watch videos of expert skiers and just by the nature of watching will improve your technique. The brain absorbs the information about the correct way to hold your arms, hips, and legs and teaches you by changing what you have done to something new. The same appears to hold true with violence and perhaps learning how to survive.

Theory #7   Mixed messages. We have become confused. We receive many mixed messages about violence. It is not OK to shoot someone, but it is OK to execute someone. It is not OK to hit someone, yet children are disciplined by being hit. It is illegal to steal, yet studies have shown that people believe it is OK to steal from the workplace. It is against the law to sexual violate or assault someone, yet this happens all the time during dating scenarios and in unhealthy marriages. It also happens in the military, in prisons, on college campuses, and at parties where men and women are drugged and then raped.

Theory #8   Violence keeps many institutions alive and well. Some institutions rely on violence. I don’t intend to confuse, but here we go.

Sports are a form a violence when considering team sports such as football, often soccer, and from time-to-time baseball. Crowds of people allow themselves to become violent watching spectator sports.

School sporting events are quite violent.

Violence is present in schools, in sport programs, in our disregard for those who are mentally ill, and the disregard for poverty and economic struggles.

Theory #9   Compassion Fatigue. People are worn out extending empathy in the direction of all those who are suffering. After a while it is hard to keep standing up and rallying for the defense of others. Compassion can wear you out and who helps the compassionate?

Who profits from violence? Many industries would not exist if violence were not present. We know that more than 18 million Americans suffer from alcohol problems. More than 5 million suffer from drug related problems. Drug and alcohol abuse impacts the number of violent crimes, traffic deaths, domestic and child abuse cases, and self-inflicted injuries in the United States, yet no one is proposing we take alcohol off the market. Of course not, there is huge money in alcohol and all of the secondary industries related to its production and distribution.

Violence has become a part of our emotional and societal landscape. It will become more so, because the underlying reasons for keeping violence are not being addressed and changed. All change requires loss and loss requires letting go. I would like to imagine enough people would be willing to let go of the way it has been in favor of something new and less anchored in structural, cultural, and direct violence.

Be well and take care,

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

Understanding Loss and Grief
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