My parents sometimes sent mixed messages when it came to fighting. They were adamant that I not start a fight with anyone, to be sure. However, they were – or at least my father was – just as adamant that if I were to get in a fight that I be ready to teach the attacker a lesson. This wasn’t an official thing, but if I told my dad I got hit, I remember him asking if I made the attacker sorry.
The whole fighting mechanism speaks to a frustration and inability to express oneself – specifically, the emotion of being upset. I didn’t know this when starting as a teacher, but apparently growing up in today’s society automatically means that you don’t know how to express anger and frustration without beating into someone’s face. Why is this still a thing? It doesn’t make sense to me. We have the words to express ourselves. We have YouTube for comparison, gifs for emotions… why is violence still a thing? Is there no replacement for the catharsis involved?
Or is it just… easy?
About one in four high school students reports having been in a physical fight in the past year.
Today, there are so many opportunities with social media to talk smack and say the wrong thing. Push someone a little bit too far. Something you post for one person can look like shade to another person. Even the best of texts can be re-read by someone and reacted to the next day. Worse, the immediacy of social networking means that the offense can reach scores of people and give every sleight a built-in audience.
Social media also rewards spectacle. A fight is a spectacle. Social media has taught students to flock to spectacle instead of avoiding it.
My father had a saying. He said this: sometimes people want to bring you down to their level, and you have to treat them as you would treat dog poop; walk around it, not through it. (My father is so poetic, I know.)
Lack of Problem-Solving Skills
It is important that we understand that some people have only been presented – either by example or directly – with a few options for solving the problems in their lives. In fact, someone with only the most basic instincts will choose either fight or flight. As a teacher, it is important to immediately make clear to our students that the time of fight or flight has long past – we are in an age of creativity and civilization. Let’s build some pyramids!
Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.
If you have no idea how to talk about your feelings, or are unused to figuring out ways to talk about your feelings, then you’re way more likely to swing at someone. Also, while it takes two to solve a problem amicably in these situations, it only takes one to fight; after all, if one person swings, there are not a lot of people that will not swing back and just take the punches. Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.
Here are some options just off the top of my head for solving problems – feel free to copy this list for home use.
- Apologize for something. What’s that? You’re not sorry? Then lie. He won’t know!
- Never talk again. Be like my dad. Walk around them. Let the poop image guide you. Stay in your lane.
- Write about it. Catharsis! Super important.
- Talk to someone you trust about it. They can give you perspective. Or just take your side and make you feel good without you actually doing anything. Note: choose confidants wisely. You want someone even-keeled.
- Speak plainly. This made me feel _______. This is why.
- Make new friends with someone. Increasing your circle decreases the percentage of conflict.
- Listen to Linkin Park or something. Or anyone with lots of guitars and sadness.
I remember the one time that I wanted to fight someone in high school, I remember a very clear voice ringing in my head through the red haze: “It’s not worth it.” I’m not self-extolling, but the clarity of that voice highlights for me the problem: we need to make sure our students also have that voice.
It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself.
Fighting is easy. All you have to do is make a move, and the rest is instinct and consequence, completely outside of your control. This can feel liberating to a stressed, emotional young person. It’s those with the strength to take control of the situation and bear the burden that will bring us toward peace. In Chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout beats up a boy for insulting her father. It’s not a reaction to danger, but a response to her pride being threatened. Her father stresses that hurting other people and becoming a person who hurts other people is too big of a change to make based on the small-minded whims of those who would insult you. It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself. Your actions won’t match their slanderous words; they will match your true self. You will have integrity.
A side effect also is that you’ll make them feel lame and insecure because they’ll be all noisy and blustery while you walk away like they’re no big deal. Two for one!
“Physical Fighting By Youth” Child Trends.org. 2017. Web. <https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/physical-fighting-by-youth/>. 11 Dec. 2017.