Helping our youths to cultivate a culture of peace

Guyana Chronicle
April 1, 2000

THIS WEEK'S incident in which one student was charged with attempted murder after allegedly attacking another youth with a cutlass is an unfortunate reminder of the human impulse for violence which is barely covered by a veneer of civilised behaviour.

Daily we are assailed by reports, both local and foreign, of mankind's choice of violence as a preferred method of settling disputes and resolving conflicts.

While this option of violence is seemingly a way of life in such global hot-spots as Kosovo, Chechnya, Colombia, Central Africa and countries of the Middle East, sporadic cases of killing and maiming are rife in very many countries.

Just recently, a troubled six-year-old boy in the United States picked up a gun he saw in the place where he was temporarily sheltered, took it to school and killed a six-year-old classmate, with whom it is said he had a disagreement the previous day.

The prevailing culture that espouses violence as acceptable, and even as normal behaviour, is a very sad commentary on our civilisation. This is not to say that in the times of the 1950s violent acts perpetrated by schoolchildren on other schoolchildren did not occur. They did.

In Guyana, for instance, these were isolated incidents that were so roundly deplored by the community that the perpetrators understood that their actions were against the grain of the social ethos, and that if they did not demonstrate some level of remorse and change their behaviour, they risked being ostracised by the community.

The juvenile delinquents, as rebellious youths were called in those days, ran the risk of being sanctioned by their parents, the schoolmaster, or even the Sergeant of Police. Back then, the lawmen were often called upon to administer punishment to many a recalcitrant youth as a kind of community service.

What is the animus that drives adults and youths to acts of violence which often result in the injury or maiming of victims? Can we say that violence is a natural, instinctive reaction to perceived hurts, insults and acts of injustice? Is man an animal psychologically destined to have his own way even if it means perpetrating an injustice against another human?

We would like to believe that there is overwhelming evidence against the notions implicit in the last two questions and that most people in this society and in other countries are basically good, law-abiding people who only have recourse to violence when their lives or the lives of their loved ones are threatened.

We may, of course, apportion blame to the violence depicted in films and on television as being contributory factors to the thinking of young people. For even in wholesome stories such as `Walker, Texas Ranger' in which the good guys win out over the bad guys, there are levels of violence that shock and disturb the sensitive mind, and might be inappropriate for young children.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated the year 2000 as the International Year of the Culture of Peace. We would like to persuade all politicians, community leaders, parents, teachers, and keepers of the gates of culture and education to instil in our youths such values as respect for other human beings, and religious and cultural tolerance.

Let us teach our children the notion that violence is not an acceptable mechanism for conflict resolution.