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Violent Words, Violent Actions

Violent words, violent actions

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to discuss the dangers of violent words.

First a quick update:

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Now, let’s talk about the link between violent words and violent actions.

Last Saturday, in Tucson Arizona, six people were killed and 14 wounded when a gunman opened fire on a small crowd being greeted by Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic congresswoman. The shooting, including the murder of a federal judge and a 9-year old girl, has sparked huge debate as many people seek not only an answer to this tragedy but also someone or something to blame.

One side of the debate seeks to lay blame on the violent and sometimes murderous language used by politicians; the other side of the debate seeks to lay blame on the lone gunman Jared Lee Loughner, 22, as a deranged person, suffering from mental illness.

Based on the information that is progressively being revealed about Jared Lee Loughner, it is obvious that he does not fit into the typical profile of a mass killer or murderer.

Here is a list of the profile of a mass murderer:

  1. Possible exacerbation of aggressiveness and tendencies to violence due to psychiatric medication
  2. Social withdrawal
  3. Victim mentality
  4. Persecution complex
  5. External blame
  6. Extreme chronic stress
  7. Feelings of powerlessness
  8. Lack of emotional support from friends and family
  9. Lists of grievances (people who wronged the murderer)
  10. Feelings of extreme disappointment, frustration and failure
  11. Inability to cope with life and its disappointments
  12. Feelings that life is now hopeless, bad and beyond redeem
  13. Plans and desires for revenge against those who caused them to suffer (often family members or co-workers)
  14. Desire to hurt the world believing that they are victims in a cruel unjust world which hurt them
  15. Access to automatic weapons.

What is known about Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is that just a few months prior to the shooting, the alleged shooter, Loughner, refused a mental health evaluation after his friends and college administrators at Pima Community College expressed concern and fears that he was mentally unstable and potentially dangerous. Following a violent outburst, Loughner was suspended and informed that he couldn’t return to the college unless he received an evaluation and clearance from a mental health professional. Loughner never went for help and never came back to the college, and school officials were powerless to force him to seek mental help.

It is important to note that because someone has a mental illness it does not imply that he or she will commit an act of violence or murder people. In a 2002, study “The Social–Environmental Context of Violent Behavior in Persons Treated for Severe Mental Illness” (by Jeffrey W. Swanson, PhD, Marvin S. Swartz, MD, Susan M. Essock, PhD, Fred C. Osher, MD, H. Ryan Wagner, PhD, Lisa A. Goodman, PhD, Stanley D. Rosenberg, PhD and Keith G. Meador, MD) it was revealed that the mentally ill are no more prone to violence than those without mental illness unless three factors are present: violent surroundings, drug abuse or a history of being a victim of violence.

It is not my intention to enter the debate of blame against the politicians or commentators for their violent language but rather to discuss the dangers of using violent language and explore the emotions and motives behind that use of language.

Recall, too, Timothy James McVeigh was a former member of the U.S. Army who killed 168 people and injured 450 when he detonated a truck bomb in front of a building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The following year, Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber (University and Airline Bomber), was arrested after engaging in a mail bombing spree that spanned nearly 20 years, killing three people and injuring 23 others. Kaczynski was an intellectual – he was accepted into Harvard, and is an American mathematician with a PhD. The political and cultural atmosphere of the 1990s was not one rife of the violent language that permeates much of the rhetoric, conversations and quotes of today’s politicians and political commentators. But yes, there was also a movement that was anti-government as best exemplified by the Waco siege and the death of seventy-six people (24 of them British nationals) that died in the fire, including more than 20 children and two pregnant women.

The point here is that there will always be individuals who will commit acts of mass violence and murder whether or not their motivations are based on revenge, subversion, anarchy or mental illness. Nonetheless, as a Human Behavior Expert, I feel that what we are witnessing and experiencing today is a culture that freely uses violent language and thus can easily spur people to acts of violence or further inflame anger, bitterness and hatred which, in turn, can result in acts of violence.

Violence and aggression in our language is much too common. Ranting that the government under President Nixon “wasn’t as corrupt as it is now,” in June 2010, Glenn Beck on Fox News suggested that the Obama administration might kill “10 percent” of population; in March 2010, Andrew Breitbart called President Obama the “suicide-bomber-in-chief”; President Obama in a radio interview in October 2010, said “If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us’…”

The language, metaphors and symbolism from both sides of the political fence are divisive, violent and inflammatory.

In July 2010, Byron Williams plotted to assassinate leaders at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU. In a jailhouse interview, Williams told reporter John Hamilton that he was heavily influenced by Glenn Beck’s conspiratorial rants.

The real danger here is that beneath much of the violent language that we hear, see and read is anger, bitterness, hostility, rebelliousness, anarchy and hatred. In other words, the angry language creates and drives more anger and it enrages and provokes action.

Ironically, people are now desperately searching for clues about Jared Lee Loughner’s behavior and mental state to see if he had written or expressed threats, violence or calls to kill as potential warning signs that might have been headed and thus could have prevented the tragic shooting and murders.

While some people argue that the language, words and metaphors of politicians, show hosts and commentators play no part in determining people’s behavior or responses, then it must be considered how you would respond if your child, husband, wife, friend, colleague or co-worker began to use phrases and terminology such as “punish our enemies”, or said about you or your boss, that he’s “a suicide bomber-in-chief” or said that we should punish you that has wronged us by having you “drawn and quartered” (a form of torture used in 14th century England and which some commentators said should be done to Democrats.)

Individually, we all long for love and acceptance, and yes, there are times that we must stand up and say ‘no’ or stand up for our beliefs, for what is right and in self-defense, but it is easy to allow our imperfections, our anger or other negative emotions to take over and drive us to hate, threats or threats of violence. The Golden Rule is about treating others the way we want to be treated – with humanity, love, respect, kindness, patience, acceptance and consideration.

In the school yard, the expression was “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me” and yet, we all know that is not true at all. It was not a statement of truth but rather a wish and desire, for we all know that words do harm. Ask any person that has experienced bigotry, racism, prejudice, mockery, criticism, condemnation or judgment about the effects of words.

If words have no meaning as some politicians, commentators and others would like us to believe then consider why Mel Gibson became a pariah in Hollywood after expressing anti-Semitic words during a DUI arrest and why he became shunned and condemned after words of threats of violence against his girlfriend Oksana.

Words are powerful and they can drive us to love or hate. Which words do you choose?

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.

Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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