Thursday, July 26th, 2012
The shootings in Colorado again raise the perennial question 'Why are human beings violent?' Are we genetically programmed to be violent? Is violence socially learned? Or are some individuals just 'psychotic'?

Perhaps the most important question is this: Can we do anything to end human violence?

Because of the death of my two uncles in World War 11, I have been researching the question 'Why are human beings violent?' since 1966, including spending 14 years living in seclusion from 1996-2010 with Anita McKone, undertaking a deep psychological examination of our own minds.

I have summarized our learning in the document 'Why Violence?', which can be read at

In essence, human beings are violent because of the 'invisible' and 'utterly invisible' violence that we adults unconsciously inflict on children. And this is in addition to the 'visible' violence that we inflict on them consciously.

So what is 'invisible' violence? It is the 'little things' we do every day. When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, we both undermine its sense of Self-worth and teach it to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout its childhood by this 'invisible' violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However, parents and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings - for example, by ignoring, comforting, reassuring, distracting, laughing at or ridiculing a child when it expresses its feelings - and the behavioral responses that are naturally generated by them, and it is this 'utterly invisible' violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioral outcomes actually occur.

The child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress its awareness of the feelings that should guide its behaviour and, as a result, it will progressively acquire a phenomenal variety of dysfunctional behaviors, including some which are violent towards itself, others and/or the Earth.

And why do we do this? We do it so that each child will fit into our model of 'the perfect citizen': that is, obedient and hardworking student, reliable and pliant employee/soldier, and submissive law-abiding citizen.

So how do we end up with people like Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot and all of those other perpetrators of violence? We create them.

And can we do anything to end human violence? Yes we can. Each one of us. Here is the formula, briefly stated:

If you want a child who is nonviolent, truthful, compassionate, considerate, patient, thoughtful, respectful, generous, loving of itself and others, trustworthy, honest, dignified, determined, courageous and powerful, then the child must be treated with - and experience - nonviolence, truth, compassion, consideration, patience, thoughtfulness, respect, generosity, love, trust, honesty, dignity, determination, courage and power.

And if you need an incentive, ask yourself this: Do you think it is possible to successfully tackle the many manifestations of violence - war, terrorism, street violence, the ongoing climate catastrophe, the ongoing exploitation of Africa, Asia and Central/South America ... - without addressing its fundamental cause?

It's a big task. But we have a world to save. Literally.

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Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach', State University of New York Press, 1996. His personal website is at
Robert J. Burrowes
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