What kind of world allows young American football players to feel comfortable making a video about raping an unconscious girl? A world where the defense against a brutal, fatal rape of a student in India is that “respectable women are not raped?” A world where a young Pakistani student is shot for going to school?
Today, NPR’s Diane Rehm discussed the political objections and support for the Violence Against Women Act and the daily attacks on women throughout the world. This while we are all still reeling from the Sandy Hook massacre of children and staff at an elementary school.
What do these two subjects—violence against women and a mass shooting—share? They are both about power. In most individuals, the drive to power funnels into positive channels—a determination to make a business successful; craft an environment that ensures the best future for our children; cure disease; explore space or the ocean or the world of the quantum; render a painting that reflects our deepest emotions; or find the words that move a reader. That is power.
There are also negative channels—the malicious release of a computer virus, the poisoning of trees: the sabotage of a fellow worker; the punch of a fist; the pulling of a trigger; even when the gun is aimed at the aggressor’s own head. These acts are also efforts to establish or regain power.
Why do we struggle so to be the master of our environment, our emotions, or influence?
In the millennia that shaped us, if we were not wired to seek power, we would have been eaten. In an earlier post, The Most Important Question, I explored the question of whether our basic nature has evolved since we became “human.” Recently, a research project added to that discussion when scientists found that the human hand, so intricately designed to manipulate and experience the world was also uniquely evolved to become a weapon, as a fist. We aren’t going to erase our nature, and if we did, we might loose all the best that we are or can be in the bargain.
What we can do, what we must do, is civilize ourselves with laws and education and support safety nets. We need to make abusing power, be it physical, emotional or political, unacceptable; to encourage a world where “success” is culturally defined by making the world a better place.
T.K. Thorne is a retired police captain (Birmingham, Alabama), director of City Action Partnership, and an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction.