Hate the Game, Not the Player: Violence in our Culture
Peace through Education, Tolerance
“Culture” can be defined in dictionary terms and can be memorized and stored in a person's lexicon for later use, but cannot be understood by such a definition. The concept of culture is too imperfect and fluid to be limited to the realms of denotation. Culture is the great shape shifter and can incarnate itself in virtually any physical entity, practice, belief, or anything else of which society may or may not be aware. It is the essence of what makes any place or people distinguishable from or alike other places or people, and is threaded through every individual, the world as far as he/she is concerned, and the world as it objectively exists. It lives inside all of us and may be best understood not by that which we use to mark our own lives but the aspects we consciously or unknowingly pass down to further generations; it will then be their move to do with it as they will, just as we have handled the gift of our predecessors. As with most things, there are positive and negative facets of culture. Our society promotes violence and ensures its continuation through our language choices, underlying stigmas of gender, education curriculum, American militaristic ideologies, and even sometimes religion. We are constantly progressing, however, and some of those movements do promote peace. In our culture, I see those changes coming in the forms of increasing multicultural awareness, children's programs, and camps and festivals.
We communicate, obviously enough, through verbal language, and wrapped in our words are deeply embedded sentiments of sexism and violence. Consider the difference between what a promiscuous man and a promiscuous woman may be called. A man who appears to be sexually involved with many women is a “ladies' man,” a “player,” - a “pimp.” A woman with the same assumed characteristic is a “floosie,” a “slut,” - she is a “hoe.” These should not be overlooked as different words for the same thing, as the connotations of these words weigh heavily and should be examined. A pimp has power; he has the upper hand and would be the decision-maker. When people use this term to describe someone's success with women, there often even exists a level of admiration. A hoe is subservient and represents nothing more than an object of lust and ownership. There is no obligation to regard a “hoe” very highly. This language makes it difficult to respect women and it is much easier to wrong or violate someone we do not respect.
A single word can reveal volumes of truth about our culture, and “pussy” is one of those words. This foul word, which is used to degrade someone we deem weak or scared, can be heard almost daily. Why do we so casually identify such behavior with the very essence of what makes a woman a woman, her genitalia? The ramifications are great and every time that word is planted, a constant reinforcement of gender conception grows and uncovers that women are associated with weakness, cowardice, and emotion. The unspoken side of this may ring even louder. Because women are these things, men are not. This is to say that men are tough, strong, brave, and rational. Richard Falk, in his essay “On Humane Governance,” says to achieve peaceful relations in politics, “the commitment to nonviolence must be constantly deepened and extended to the most private spheres of human existence, including...the reconceiving of “manhood,'” (256, Falk). If this is true for high levels of government it is more so important on the community level. Peace will not come without changing the macho-man image of what a man should be and the servile expectations of women.
The American education system, most particularly History, also teaches the superiority of certain people at the elementary school level. We teach our children fabricated tales of glorified white males. We neglect to include the suffering and oppression the weaker classes may have experienced as a result. Children have no reason to question their history lessons, so they trust the source and accept them as fact. The problem is that their history lessons are not entirely factual and encourage violence. For example, our history textbooks reserve terms such as heathens, savages, barbarians, rebels, and extremists for those groups that white men have dominated and oppressed. This de-humanizes entire ranks of people and subtly justifies wrong-doings.
Our history textbooks do not teach a significant history of the world either, except how things have affected America and from America's point of view. This limit of what we teach our children alters what they grow up believing. At some point, that which we have been raised to accept is challenged, and when that happens violent aggression often ensues.
Another aspect of our culture that begets violence is growing up with American militaristic ideologies. Invading other countries is almost becoming “the usual;” people are getting used to it and it no longer seems to phase us. Bombarding an entire generation with an attitude of dominance teaches them to use force over diplomacy and peace talks. Children can grow up believing that is it okay to bully those who are weaker and different, as they are often portrayed as a problem, the enemy. This also necessarily shapes a noesis of arrogance that can lead to intolerance, resentment, and hostility.
This generation of American youth is being indirectly taught that bullying, invasion, and war are the quick and easy solutions to a problem. Can this carry over into everyday living and social situations? “The concentric circles of peace begin with the individual and radiate outward to family, community, and the larger world,” (29, Cortright). This is also true, unfortunately, for violence and inversely, notions of the larger world can be applied to the inner rings of the circle. As a result, people within the smaller community may, for example, fear the same people; at this time, Americans fear Arabs. If the government is leading by example, then we are also taught to react to fear with violence. Thus, cycles of accepted and promoted racism and violence are formed. Those who are discriminated against may react with hostility, therefore validating the initial prejudice, keeping the cycle strong and unchanging. Those who support militarism have the amazing paradoxical ability to preach equality but teach supremacy. This often comes at the expense of religion. Religion should teach compassion, love, and forgiveness; however, in our society it is often used instead as justification for violence.
Our society is making efforts to knock down these structures of violence and build peace. This is largely the result of an increase of simple exposure to other cultures and ways of living. Modern advancements in communication technology have literally put the whole world at our fingertips with the Internet. This allows for people's minds to explore places they cannot physically visit. The Internet also makes it possible to discover and consider alternative media and news coverage. Sometimes basic awareness is all it takes for people to consider the positives of multiculturalism.
The media is not only for adults, and children's programs and cartoons can also be seen as making considerable strides. Cartoons are schematically shifting from violence to peacebuilding. For example, while they used to be dominated by anvils falling on heads and explosions sponsored by ACME, they now emphasize teamwork, problem-solving, and education. I first noticed this change occurring about a decade ago with “Blue's Clues.” The networks did not stop there and now make it a point to be culturally diverse, as well. Some of the most popular characters right now are Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder; Dora is Hispanic and even teaches basic Spanish to children, and Bob is a construction worker, which may help reduce stereotypes of class.
Other exhibits of peacebuilding are camps, cultural festivals, and music festivals. They are increasingly popular and are extremely valuable to society. They should not be dismissed as “hippie fests” or radical events that have no worth. These festivals give participants the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate differences while having fun because of and in spite of them.
Cycles of violence, once initiated, find ways to permeate through our culture and grow, and they are very difficult to reverse. People can forget why they are fighting in the first place and continue the fight just for its own sake. This is portrayed perfectly in a scene from the major motion picture, Save the Last Dance. Two young women, Nikki and Sara, get into a violent fight, after which Nikki says, “It ain't over, bitch.” “I don't even know why it started, bitch,” Sara responds. For peace to dominate our culture and our pointless violence to cease, we must accept the responsibility of acknowledging the causes of our hatreds and exposing ourselves to the unfamiliar.
Cortright, David. Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Falk, Richard. “On Humane Governance.” Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies. Ed.
David P. Barash. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Save the Last Dance. Dir. Thomas Carter. 2001, Film.