News & Features » Miscellany

Violence in the home begets violence in the schools.

Do Unto Others


We've all had to listen to almost monotonous explanations of the reasons for the explosion of teen-age mayhem: too many guns, not enough morality, too much violence on TV, not enough personal responsibility. These are all true. But as the news directors and speech writers spin in their desk chairs to find out what we want to hear, there is one aspect of the picture that is being avoided.

Perhaps this reason is considered an uncomfortable subject. Maybe it strikes a little too close to home. Consequently, we aren't hearing much about the common denominator in many massacres, wherever they occur. Instead of recognizing the systematic abuse of children as the key factor it has always been in such matters, we fret and search for peripheral reasons to explain the bewildering carnage.

In a knee-jerk response to the recent school yard blood baths, some would make schools and streets safe by putting a cop with unlimited power in every classroom and on every street corner. Hopefully, most Americans would still see such a cure as worse than the malady.

But the truth is we don't enjoy absolute freedom and never have. It is the balance between freedom and control that is the secret to making our system of democracy, free speech, and free markets work.

America is a representative democracy, not a pure democracy. Elections are held at regular intervals to control public policy. Freedom of speech doesn't allow for a fool to yell "fire" in a crowded theater, and so forth. What we do have is a tradition of wanting as much freedom as possible because we believe that it brings out the best in us. Amen.

Returning to the trouble that launched this most recent national debate — teen-age violence — I'm convinced we need to divide our thinking into long term and short term, or perhaps indirect and direct.

The long-term/indirect approach should recognize that the four obvious reasons for the escalating violence are excellent areas for concentrated efforts.

However, there is a solid reason that violence on TV, or the availability of guns, hasn't made us all blow each others' brains out. And that reason is tragically simple: Most of us have not gone through a soul-crushing experience of abuse as a child.

Some children who are tied up and beaten bloody will not break. Some little girls who are sexually molested by an adult they naturally trusted will outgrow the painful confusion and learn to trust again. Some little boys, who hear gunshots outside their windows most nights, will resist giving in to fear and grow up without joining a street gang. Some kids who suffer from cold neglect will be strengthened by the ordeal and become good citizens.

The others, the ones who can't overcome their bad luck, may shoot each other at school. If they survive the nightmare of their childhood, they are likely to end up being a perpetual nuisance to everyone. At some point it's probably too late to help them. However sad that may be, it's the truth.

By the time the most damaged kids are in school, they aren't really that hard to spot.

Here's the unvarnished truth: We can't continue to allow kids that we know are powder kegs to play with matches. Children of this ilk must be watched constantly and have absolutely no access to weapons with more potential than a spitball.

Here's the short term/direct strategy: We have to accept that children who are being subjected to systematic abuse must be taken away from the source of that abuse immediately. It's their only hope. It may be our only hope.

Yes, in some cases this essay is advocating the government's bold intrusion into private rooms behind locked doors. And that will always be painful. Yet, in order to protect the freedom of the many, we must be willing to focus our effort on the few who are central to this particular problem.

Once again, it's a matter of balance.

So forget about ranting at Goth fashions or the Internet. Unless we slow down the assembly line process of neglect and overt abuse that is forging tomorrow's bloody monsters, there's precious little use in talking about what else we are going to do to make schools, streets, workplaces or homes safe.

If we continue to allow our politicians to demagogue this issue, if we allow an irresponsible media to go on promoting aberrant behavior in the name of reporting on it, we do ourselves no good.

Furthermore, if we fail to act effectively to slow down the assembly line, then the very tenets of our free society could soon be ablaze on the altar of order, at any price.

F. T. Rea is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

Add a comment