It seems like everything on the news lately has been gun violence here, another suicide bomber there, and meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree if it’s pronounced tomaTOE or tomaTAH.
Obviously, change needs to happen. As Americans, we can’t keep being angry and stomping our feet and hoping something will change. Protests and meager partisan legislation do no lasting good for Americans. If Americans are truly committed to social change, it needs to come from a change in individuals’ perspectives of others.
I believe we’re all born good, with a desire to do what’s right and wholesome. Traumatic experiences that alter thought processes or needs consistently being neglected over time and on a consistent basis (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) encourage antisocial attitudes, and I mean this is in the legal and psychological sense, not the wallflower-at-parties way—behaviors that can be dangerous.
With this thought in mind, the best way to reduce behaviors that lead to violent crimes is to start at home, making sure children are loved and cared for by healthy and happy adults. If home problems cannot be helped, children in dangerous situations need to be given the tools and support they need to succeed.
It’s no wonder to me that a lot of violent crime happens in lower income areas. Usually, individuals and families who live there struggle in more than one way. Maybe Mom or Dad can’t pay the bills and are desperate for cash, or there are medical issues eating up the family’s resources, or maybe the teenagers are involved with something they shouldn’t be and don’t know how to make good choices.
No matter the problem, someone in the mix is not getting what he or she needs, so they act out, taking what is needed in an inappropriate way and drawing the attention of police and the media.
Just as the problem is a social problem, the solution comes through social change. If all people are inherently good and turn ‘bad’ only by negative, external forces that change internal processes, is it not the duty of every member of society to reduce their negative social footprint?
In many ways, society is already responding to unmet needs. Food pantries and food assistance programs help impoverished families get the nutrition they need while housing projects and shelters provide shelter to those who can’t afford rent or mortgage payments. After-school programs like the Boys and Girls Club of America give at-risk school-aged children and youth a place where they can learn, grow and receive positive interaction from adults who cares about them.
But many social aid programs only address the first two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, physiological needs and physical safety. What I’m calling for is for society to rise up and begin to recognize the emotional needs of others and do what can be done to help those in vulnerable positions.
I can’t honestly think of a social program like Boys and Girls Club or a homeless shelter that could help someone feel like they belong. Something like that has to happen on an individual basis.
As individuals, we need to learn to accept and appreciate those around us for who they are and what they can become, not snipe at shortcomings or differences. True personal happiness doesn’t come from gossiping and back-biting. It comes from accepting and learning from others. That acceptance, first external then internal, encourages feelings of love and belonging. Once the need for love from others is fulfilled, individuals can begin to learn to love themselves and ascend Maslow’s hierarchy.
I’m not saying that we have to be friends with everyone and ignore the wrong things they do—that doesn’t fix anything either. It only perpetuates inappropriate behavior. What I’m saying is that we need to stop trying to make ourselves and others fit into neat little molds of “pretty,” “smart” and “talented,” all of those who don’t fit being labeled as “ugly,” “stupid” or “worthless.”
Personal value, like jewels and people, come in every shape, size and color. In order to find and perpetuate true social change, we need to find the personal strength to appreciate and accept others, as well as address more basic needs.