The past years have seen increased incidences of violence in the schools, in public, and in the workplace. The aftermath is the same: shock, grief, looking for answers. In our search for answers, we tend to blame our pet peeves as the cause for senseless violence. Of course there is not just one cause, but rather a complex interaction between human nature and our environment.
There are three tendencies of human nature which are important pieces of the puzzle to explore. Knowing about them could possibly prevent further school, public, and workplace violence. These are the tendencies to alter our consciousness; seek intensity; and narrow our reality. These tendencies are natural to all people, yet when exaggerated in the context of addictions, poor judgment, alienation, illness, and denial, they can lead to violence.
Altering our Consciousness
The first of these tendencies, altering our consciousness, is seen in small children who love to spin around making themselves dizzy, or peek through their legs to look at the world upside down, or giggle or scream loudly for no reason adults can easily see. Adults also have a natural desire to alter their consciousness, as seen in altered states induced during some religious ceremonies, sporting events, overeating/vomiting, daydreaming, a bad temper, cutting, road rage, and sexual activity, to name a few.
The second natural human tendency is to seek intensity. Examples of natural periods of low intensity include boredom, routine, deadened emotions, and depression. We will then create situations to lift us out of the low intensity state and into the realms of feeling “very alive.” It feels better to feel alive. Most addictions are exaggerated attempts to keep intensity going or to lift us out of boredom/routine/deadened emotions/depression. Intensity is built into news stories, video games, TV, advertising, political rhetoric, and movies as a way of engaging our interest (we are drawn toward intensity and drama)
Narrowing our Reality
The third natural human tendency is to narrow our reality. This relates to taking a small piece of our world and focusing on it to the exclusion of the bigger picture. We do this to gain a sense of control over our lives, since dealing with many of life’s issues all at once can seem overwhelming. The more a person feels disenfranchised, powerless or out of control, the more one tends to narrow one’s world. Some of the more problematic examples we frequently see are, being overly focused on violence, religion, sex, work, drugs, money, or relationships. This will eventually lead to an unrealistic view of oneself and the world, and intensify feelings of anger, frustration, fear, and alienation. Narrowing one’s reality to a small area of life is part of the addictive process and may be one of the purposes behind most addictions. Certainly, violence has an addictive quality.
On closer look, what seems like senseless violence eventually does make sense from the violent person’s perspective, as psychological autopsies have demonstrated. Most of us are not prone to violence because we learn to balance the natural tendencies to alter our consciousness, seek intensity, and narrow our reality. Some less intense imbalances, yet still self-destructive behavior, can be seen in sabotaging relationships, under-achievement, and poor health habits. Our goal should be to understand the need for, and the skills required for balance, so that we do not become destructive to ourselves or others. Internal balancing of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors is a prerequisite for a healthy life.
My observation is that those who are violent in schools, in public, and in the workplace are significantly out of balance, but could possibly be identified in advance by applying the three human tendencies listed above. Perhaps the violent individuals get “high” over planning their and others’ destruction (altering their consciousness), felt very alive in carrying it out (intensity), and were removed from most thoughts/behaviors not related to their destructive plan for some time (narrowing reality).
By understanding what to look for, we may be able to prevent further acts of violence. It is important to stop blaming specific issues (usually our pet peeves) in society for a person’s violence, such as gun ownership, lack of religion in schools, Hollywood movies, or even poor role models. Human nature and the environment are constantly shaping each other over time, yet the outcome of that interaction is ultimately the individual’s responsibility.