Dear Dr. Wes and Marissa: There are always fights and stupid arguments going on at school. Even in other places, people lash out first without talking things out. Can you explain why violence is not the correct answer? - Teenage Girl
Dr. Wes: It seems you are considering the larger implications of violence, both at home and abroad. The problem is that violence tends to be self-promoting; it works for those who practice it effectively. Now there are some obvious consequences for using it, but if you're the one inflicting the violence, you may not give that point much thought until it's too late. On the other hand, history tells us that in some situations - World War II, for example - the only real solution to aggression is aggression. In other cases, violence is an over-reaction to minor problems, which could have been dealt with in a more diplomatic way.
Broadly speaking, aggressive behavior and words serve two purposes. The first is to get something done. If a violent person or country wants to make someone do what they want, they become threatening. This is called instrumental aggression because it is used like an instrument or tool. Most powerful countries, including the United States, have used aggression this way, and many violent people do also. One might consider this the Tony Soprano version of violence. At school the threat of violence may be used to extort others, show off one's power, etc. However, I've also seen older, bigger kids force bullies to back off. So whether instrumental aggression solves problems really depends on the ethics behind it.
The more common form of aggression, and the one you see most in school, is reactive aggression. This usually comes when children are raised without adequate rules and structure, or in homes where violence is used to enforce discipline. Sometimes aggressive teens have psychological problems like bipolar disorder. More often they simply haven't been taught to solve problems sensibly. They typically feel insecure, shamed and put down as kids, and when they have a chance, they take this out on others in order to prove they aren't victims. Worst of all, when you've been abused as a child, you aren't scared of anyone or anything because you've already been through hell at home. Only after someone bigger and badder comes into the picture - like the cops or a stronger rival - do these aggressive kids back down.
I've walked the road with a lot of these kids, and I can tell you that any form of aggression may seem to solve problems in the short run. In the long run, however, it expresses a sad and pathetic side of humanity that we have struggled unsuccessfully to do away with for many years. I can only say that I wish there were more young people like you to take up that fight. If the 85 percent of teens who share your view got together and said "no," the other 15 percent quickly would shrink. That's true in your school, and the world at large.
Marissa: If you've seen one fight, you've seen them all. There's a hush among the student body, and when you look up to find out why, a large, tight cluster of high school students has formed and is watching intently as rivals duke it out. It usually takes all of five second for a security guard to break it up and, in the end, there's suspension and embarrassment. Fights in school are commonplace and, unfortunately, are almost a form of entertainment for some students.
So why is violence not the answer? Well, I can think of a few obvious reasons. It gets you in trouble. It can get you suspended. It can mess up your transcript. However, usually the students who are involved in fighting don't care about how their transcript looks. Which makes my obvious reasons seem not too important. If you don't agree with these, like we've said in earlier columns, try to find something that you do care about. Something that can keep you motivated and well-behaved.
I suppose to reach a broader audience the whole "it makes you look stupid" route might work better. Even though, like I said, people can find fights entertaining, in the end, most people really think they're dumb. Really, what is so cool about hitting someone? I think that if everyone removed all of the influence from various cultures that glorify fighting and truly thought about it, they would realize how silly it is. By junior high or high school at least, you should be able to communicate your feelings and frustrations in a more mature way.
Fighting happens often, and will probably continue to happen. So a big thumbs up to the security and staff at the schools who have to break up the scuffles.
Next week: "Lonely teen" asks if not having a girlfriend can lead to depression.