Are We Inadvertently Breeding Violence?
I remember discussing with two friends a few years back, that as Sri Lankans we seem to have this tendency for violence within ourselves. Not just in the cities but in general. The standard thing for any macho talk is that you will kill the guy, break his face, beat him up etc. That’s just normal rhetoric in both Sinhala and English (I am sure it’s the same in Tamil). I have heard enough stories where families are murdered, physically mutilated and hexed due to land disputes and money matters. Domestic violence is rampant. Yet we claim a 2500 year old civilised culture and promote ourselves as the seat of Theravada Buddhism. So where is this culture, civilisation and Buddhism in all the violence we see today? What’s worse is that we have violence perpetuated in the name of guarding religion. Buddhism in particular advocates a very clear philosophy (it is not a religion though it has been diluted into one) of peaceful tolerance and non violence. Yet in the wake of fanaticism people seem to think that to fight violence with violence is the answer. It is not and I believe the primary religious teachings all advocate this – the answer to hate is love, not hate.
So where does this need for violence stem from? We must be breeding it somewhere. If not breeding it we seem to be letting it take its course. I have personally listened to tales of how a beating will sort out matters in issues of disputes with people and domestic issues and that a child who isn’t beaten is never going to be disciplined. I have also listened to this notion that boys must be beaten to be kept in line. I doubt any boy’s school in Sri Lanka has ever had a period free of violence in terms of fights, beatings and a need to be aggressive. I can say girls schools have it less – there are some physical fights but the games played are more manipulation than physical violence. However the female teachers in boys schools are not second to meting out physical punishment on their students.
So let’s see – if what we teach our children is that hitting is ok because it is for discipline. We teach them that it is ok to be violent as long as the result is ‘good’. Violence involves an act of hurting another human being or destroying things. By saying it’s ok to be violent we teach them that it is ok to hurt others or destroy things as long as the end result is good. Or to be more precise, as long as the end result is what we want achieved. Which is submission in the case of a school. What is worse is when people hit a child saying they love them, then you equate violence to love. In a different context it’s like saying it’s ok what you do in a sport as long as the end result is winning. So as adults we carry these learnings on into our workplaces, communities and families.
And so you can use violence because that is what you know – you were taught it’s ok. You were shown by example. It is practised, it is sanctioned and it is endorsed. And then we throw in this blanket of culture, religion and law and it’s a conflict – one tells you it’s ok to be violent and the other is the polar opposite. So we are in effect a bunch of hypocrites. And herein lies the problem.
In the global index of least violent countries, as at 2018, Sri Lanka was number 67. As the seat of an ancient civilisation (people need to learn the definition of this term) and the seat of Theravada Buddhism we should be in the top 10. We are not and we really need to question ourselves on what we are going to do – because violence breeds violence. And this starts at home, in schools and in communities.
Our failure to act where we can we lead to further deterioration of our society. Either we accept law of the jungle and survival of the fittest or we push non violence, ethics and tolerance. Choice is ours.