Why do kids turn to violence?
by Jeffrey Carduner
Reprinted from the Henryetta Free Lance, Henryetta, Oklahoma, November 12, 2002. Versions of this article, in response to other incidents of violence in schools, have appeared in newspapers as early as 1998 in the Ashland Daily Tidings of Ashland, Oregon.
Like millions of people all over the nation, I have been heartbroken to read about the shootings in our country by young people. And now there are more shocking killings, allegedly by a young person of Sallisaw. Americans have to educate ourselves and the children as to the essential cause—whatever the particular circumstances may be—of these terrible deeds.
Taking a gun out of a young person’s hands, of course, is paramount. But why, when he has a gun, does he use it on innocent people?
For over 25 years, with my colleagues, I have taught young men the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, founded by the great American educator Eli Siegel, as part of the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation in New York. Aesthetic Realism teaches that the deepest desire of every person is “to like the world on an honest or accurate basis” (Self and World, Definition Press, 1981).
It also explains there is another desire in the self: to have contempt, the “disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.” Contempt, uncriticized, is the cause of these occurrences. When you have contempt, Eli Siegel wrote, you take away the humanity of another person: “As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don’t want to see another person as having the fulness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person” (James and the Children, 1968). A young man could never harm another had he learned to give other persons—as young men learn in studying Aesthetic Realism—the depth of feelings people have within themselves: how another child hopes deeply to be able to like herself, how a neighbor, or a teacher, or a parent is a living, breathing, feeling individual.
Aesthetic Realism shows: young men can use disappointments in the family, in school, in love, can use unjust economics to be disgusted with, to have contempt for everything, to justify their own fury and ill will. Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, explains in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known:
A huge mistake people make [is] they use the fact that they have suffered to be mean to others….People who have suffered from injustice have most often felt that they … have the right to see other people any way they please: I owe nothing to a human being different from me, because look at what I had to bear; my pain is real, his is not….Every person needs to be asked a question only Aesthetic Realism asks: Do you use injustice to you to be fair to other people or unfair?…There is no more emergent question…today.
In an Aesthetic Realism class taught by Eli Siegel, when I was a young man, I said: “If I see the world as against me, I feel I can do anything I want.” I was met with passionate logic and kindness as Eli Siegel said:
According to Aesthetic Realism the one sin of the world is to use oneself to lessen what other things mean. Once you do that, you can get into embezzling, you can get into mugging, all the horrors.
It is an emergency that parents, teachers, young people study this great, kind knowledge, otherwise we will have more tragedies, and, God knows, Americans deserve something so other now!