As nations resort to brute force, children absorb aggression in insidious ways.
Some may fear World War III
Some may fear growing old and bent
But the future I fear the most
Is a continued present
Christine Pangen, age 15
In the first week of January this year, in Ohio, 18-year-old Nathan Beavers accidentally stepped on four-year-old Ethan Crisp’s foot. This so enraged the child that he walked away into the house saying “I’m gonna get a gun.” H e picked up his father’s 9-guage shotgun, found the single round it could hold, loaded the rifle, returned to the living room with it and to everyone’s shock and disbelief, shot Nathan. There were no “enemies” in this terrible drama. It wasn’t even a match of equals who each knew the other was going to try and subdue him. Nor was there a tyrant intent upon exercising control on a wider basis by systematic destruction of a people.
The face of violence was the face of a child.
Who taught Ethan to shoot and why did he feel that the injury accidentally inflicted on him called for the clumsy inflictor to be blasted away forever? And though Nathan escaped death, why would a four-year-old reach to kill? Can there be such murderous rage in a child at birth? No. Was he born a marksman? Of course not. What is certain is that there was a shotgun at home. Ethan must have watched while it was handled, loaded, noticed the looks of satisfaction and triumph when it was masterfully used and begun to associate that state with a sense of power which was worth attaining. He also knew exactly where the rounds were stored and how to load the weapon. Local blogs called for a stoning of the child or a beating so harsh that Ethan would be bed-ridden for days. Only one commentator said, “Smart kid.” Neither of these responses is going to help the world.
Guessing the causes
We don’t know for sure, but perhaps Ethan grew up in an atmosphere of violence as a solution and as a natural habitat. Perhaps the first images he saw were blasts and blood on a video or TV screen. Perhaps there were continuous sounds of conflict and anger in the house and he thought it was all perfectly normal.
But who taught Ethan to point and pull the trigger and what is the message for us as we lurch from one terrible storm to another? Surely it is that our children are overexposed to the (adult) truths that the nations of the world are relying more and more on brute force and trusting their lives and hopes to systems which represent the very denial of law and brotherhood. Violence in entertainment has reached such a pitch that we have given the phrase “bad taste” new meaning. A recent video game awards points to the number of people the player infects as the game progresses: rather more for contaminating adults, but 5 points if you can infect infants. Look at the age-group that the darkness has reached...and within the child’s own home. Along with the very real physical fears of sudden violence and death is the presence of continuous stress in children’s lives brought on by relentless demands that they perform in classrooms and in other areas. Doctors will tell you that insomnia, irritability and poor eating habits amongst children below 10 years of age is on the rise. The levels of tension and suppressed resentment at the lack of freedom to relax and just be children without worrying about the next day will naturally find expression in explosions of anger because children do not know what else to do.
A teacher said that the mind of a five-year-old is “...a volcano with two vents: one of destructiveness and one of creativity.” The more the child is permitted to use the the creative vent, the less destructive s/he will be. Any form of self-expression is healthy: painting, colouring, singing, making up stories, hand-work with everyday materials or any of the creative energies that a child brings into her learning space. This self-expression packs the strength to build a confident and non-aggressive human being which is the urgent need of our increasingly violent society.
Every year when millions of three/four-year-olds enter school, we have a fresh chance to build a safer future with more balanced people. It is something we can actually do because we have control over the hours children spend in school and how they learn in their early years. We are the direct heirs of Gandhiji’s vision of peace, and the power that comes from it. Why are we preventing our children from gaining from a study of it?