Violence has become all too real in our lives. Mass shootings at public places, schools, suicides—it’s all become terrifyingly common. We ask, “Why do these things keep happening?”. It doesn’t seem to make sense. While we cannot reconcile the horror of these events, the truth is that we can try to make sense of it. In order to make sense of these shocking behaviors, it requires us to step into a different mindset.
Gavin De Becker, one with a different mindset, wrote the book The Gift of Fear. Yes, you read that right, the gift of fear. In it, Becker talks about how to identify behaviors in people who perpetrate these crimes, pre-incident indicators, and much more. Gavin teaches you how to use your fear in an informative way, apart from using logic (often the logic comes later, all the while your intuition is operating/keeping your safe even before you become fully aware that it is). He also teaches you how to respond to people who you fear might become violent. Becker’s belief is that humans are far more alike than we are different. Looking at humankind’s common ground to make sense of these crimes allows space for empathy and understanding. Here is a list of Becker’s idea of commonalities that might help us make some sense of unreconcilable human behavior:
- We seek connection with others.
- We are saddened by loss and try to avoid it.
- We dislike rejection.
- We like recognition and attention.
- We will do more to avoid pain than we will do to seek pleasure.
- We dislike ridicule and embarrassment.
- We care what others think of us.
- We seek a degree of control over our lives.
I agree with each and every statement here. I think we can all agree that for the vast majority most of these commonalities hit home. While these points can initiate many routes of conversations, the one I can’t stop thinking about is the discussion about adolescents today and their consistent reality of potential violence/danger around every corner. Looking at the reality of violence and the perpetuating fear, we can see a parallel; the one’s who commit acts of violence want to do harm to others and/or to themselves. One could make a connection that because of the violence educed fear, school shootings and teen suicides are at an all time high. De Becker suggests that when an individual who may be prone to violence sees someone in the media act violently, they tend to identify with that perpetrator. When we see one act of violence in the news it’s not uncommon for another violent crime to happen shortly after. I have to wonder about the same concept when it comes to suicide…
It begs the question, what is going on? How are so many students pushed to violence? I look at the above list and think of how often we are glued to our phones and social media…
Let’s read the human commonalities list with social media in mind:
- We seek connection with others. Check.
- Saddened by loss and are trying to avoid it. Check. (Ever try getting over a break-up while still seeing their posts?)
- We dislike rejection. Check. (Blocked or unfriended.)
- We like recognition and attention. (2 Likes? TWO likes???)
- We will do more to avoid pain than we will do to seek pleasure. (Maybe if this instinct were a little stronger, more would get off social media.)
- We dislike ridicule and embarrassment. (People are bold when they’re behind a screen.)
- We care what others think of us. (It seems that social media gives us updates on whether we are well-liked, unseen, or disliked based on follows and likes.)
- We seek a degree of control over our lives. (Nothing says control like fear inducing algorithmic posts.)
So, is it entirely social media’s fault? No, but more often than not it plays a huge role in teen’s behaviors and tendencies. I’ve worked with clients who have been utterly humiliated through social media—bullied, rejected, and who have even witnessed their own friend’s suicide. When you add in the fact that adolescents are in a stage of development when their peer relationships become the most important aspect of their lives, it only compounds the intensity of these experiences. That being said, none of my clients who have been negatively impacted by social media responded with violence. To that, I say: Social media and the pain it can bring does not make people violent, and if someone has a tendency towards violence, they might feel justified in a violent act after experiencing feelings of being humiliated, rejected, or ridiculed.
I’m not anti-social media, but I am pro-caution and pro-education. We need to teach kids how to use the internet in a safe and fun way. Check out this blog for ideas on topics to discuss with your teen about social media. Teach them to be kind; to show respect regardless of whether someone shows it to you or not. Teach them that everyone has a story we know nothing about. Never degrade. Never humiliate. Never steal someone’s dignity, and don’t live your life afraid that someone might become violent. Let us act in a way that is compassionate and that doesn’t give power to those who are looking to “justify” violence. Empathy give way for communication and understanding instead of reactive violence.
**The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).
Becker, G.D. (2021). The Gift of Fear: Survival signals that protect us from violence. Back Bay Books.