RESPECT NOT RUDENESS KEY TO VIOLENCE REDUCTION
We are a nation of busy people. We scurry around with barely enough time to attend to
over-committed schedules, and the first thing we dispense with in an attempt to save time is
civility. We cut one another off in traffic, we bump into one another on the street, we pursue our
personal and business agendas without the slightest regard for other people. We model behavior
for our children that demonstrates that we care little for our fellow Americans, and the only
thing that seems to make us want to be civil to one another in public is the fear that the next
person may be even more of a rage-aholic than we are.
Similarly, our politicians play scorched earth games with one another and generally
demonstrate a supreme disregard for civil or reasoned discourse while pointing the finger at one
another and crying foul. There is no limit to what our leaders will say about one another. And
guess what, folks -- there are children listening and watching!
The average child entering fifth grade has seen hundreds of thousands of acts of violence
on television. The barrage of violence on the psyche of our nation's youth continues throughout
their school years, and many psychologists believe that this overexposure to violence has a
numbing effect, a desensitizing of youth to witnessing violence.
When this media exposure to violence is coupled with the demonstrated lack of civility
among adults and the high degree of availability of guns and other weapons in our nation, we see
tragic results. It may be that a tragic incident such as the one that recently occurred in
Jonesboro, Ark., provides us an excellent opportunity to reflect on what we can do, as a society,
to lower the decibel level and encourage constructive discourse and problem solving.
We must move toward or return to a more civil society. We need to turn down the
volume on our voices, remove the hate from our speech, and begin to teach a radical concept to
our children -- the desirability of respect. Each person must recognize the inherent worth of all
human beings, including one's self, and must accord that worth some deference before
responding to some perceived or real wrong.
An excellent way to teach this lesson is through peer mediation programs in schools.
These programs teach students how to listen to one another in a respectful way, how to solve
conflict without violence, how to manage anger, communication skills, self respect, trust, and
how to express feelings in a constructive manner. The American Bar Association is doing its
small share to promote peer mediation. We have volunteer lawyers working in 21 cities to bring
peer mediation programs to schools without the funds to hire a private organization to
implement a program, or that do not have volunteer programs available in their communities.
The ultimate goal is to teach the next generation (and perhaps their parents along the way) about
peaceful ways to resolve conflict. Skills learned through the program can be used not only in
the schools, but in the students' neighborhoods and throughout their lives. A side benefit of the
program is showing our local communities that lawyers can be problem solvers and preventors,
not just gladiators.
Peer mediation programs alone won't end school violence. But coupled with outreach
into the community and impact within the family, such programs can go a long way toward
returning us to the more respe
ctful approach to human interaction our nation seems to have lost.
Until we move to increase the positives in the sum of influences on the behavior of our children,
we will be left with only the negatives -- lack of civility in everyday interaction, media violence,
gutter politics, and the ready availability of guns. That may well add up to more Jonesboros.
The ABA encourages local leaders to start mediation programs in their schools and
communities, and to make training in conflict resolution available to parents.