During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHR. Details on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.
THOUGHT QUESTION, WEEK 5
Do you think that violence is a “natural” part of being human? If so, why do you think this? If not, why do you think violence, particularly against women, is so prevalent? Please write a response in three to five thoughtful paragraphs.
The question, "what is natural?" must be defined before answering whether or not violence is a natural part of being human. Natural, as defined by Merriam Webster means:
: existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature
: usual or expected
: implanted or being as if implanted by nature : seemingly inborn
Still with this definition, I find it difficult to answer this question. I think we are born with certain tendencies and characteristics, both positive and negative which we either have to overcome to let it subside (negative or harmful tendency) or disappear or nurture to develop more fully (positive or beneficial tendency). The tendency to be violent is a characteristic which is inborn, but is only developed or brought out by cultural traditions and expectations.
Certainly, as an adult the tendency to get angry is natural, but how we choose to channel that anger is just that, a choice. Our choices as young people and into adulthood, however, are largely dependent on what we have seen in our families and what we have been taught. Violence is one way to react to the feeling of anger but there are many other ways to handle that anger, but other options must be illustrated and taught. Think of a two-year old child who has difficulty sharing a toy. Often that child's reaction is to bite or hit the child who has taken his or her toy or has the toy that he or she wants. In my experience, this type of violent reaction is more common than not for a small child and children must be taught or learn other ways to react or channel their anger in a non-violent manner.
That being said, there are culturally acceptable ways to channel that anger, which are often gender-based. Unfortunately, violence is acceptable in some cultures as a way to express anger, whether that is violence against people in general, women or intimate partners, children, or simply against property. I have observed that allowing violent reactions is more acceptable for boys than it is for girls. Many of us have heard the phrase, "boys will be boys." Unfortunately, this school of thought perpetuates the notion that violence is an acceptable form of expressing one's anger with no thought to the other person or their physical rights.
With regard to sexual violence, I think it is somewhat an extension of violence due to anger, but I believe this type of violence is learned and is not innate or natural, depending on the reason for the violence, which is debatable and likely, different in every situation. But it is the same in that other options to channel their feelings (anger, desire for power, hatred, etc.) must be introduced, taught, and practiced. Most people do and act the way they have been taught, the way they have observed relationships function throughout their lives. If they have never seen another way, they will not know how to do something different until it is introduced to them. Until they have been taught.
Our responsibility as adults, as parents, and as influential members of our communities is to help make other non-violent options known and understood. We can act as examples. We can teach children or other adults who still struggle with this tendency before they find themselves in a potentially violent anger situation, what options they have to deal with the anger. If the tools are not given to individuals to deal with their anger in the heads, they may resort to physical violence. Tools can include learning how to soothe oneself, learning to take a step back from the situation and wait while the anger in one's mind subsides, learning to channel that anger into something else physical like running or boxing. All of these tools take practice before they are fully effective and if they are introduced at a young age, an individual has a much better chance of ridding him or herself of the natural tendency toward violence and empower him or herself with the greater emotional and mental capacity of rising above.