Last week, I started the “Talking Fists” series. My intention is to make an attempt at presenting a summary of what we already know about why humans generally sometimes resort to different forms of aggression in order to communicate their intentions or expectations from others. I will also make an attempt at describing how best to be able to communicate without turning to violence as a means to achieving our end. I hope you have joined the campaign #DiamondBankMustSayNoToViolence. We all have to do the reorientation together by completely rejecting all forms of subtle indoctrination of the minds of citizens into the acceptance of aggression as an acceptable means to an end. I just read an online publication about the student union representatives of a university in southwestern Nigeria who engaged themselves in some scuffles over the disagreements that resulted from differing views with respect to the disbursement of funds meant for student projects. What a shame!
The story from different sources seems to even suggest that the aggressor was a lady! She was said to have initially handed out a slap to one of her fellow comrades in activism before engaging in a scuffle during which a head-butt and a broken bottle were also introduced into the engagement to further drive home their points. Our fists don’t have to do the talking!! There are civil ways of registering displeasure. No matter how strong our negative emotions are about a situation; we don’t have to do something wrong to correct another’s wrongdoing!!!
The first issue that I will like to summarize is what we know about how people acquire the mental process that accommodates aggression or violence as a means of communicating intentions or desires to others. There had been a lot of academic discussions towards exploring whether aggression is an instinctive response to situations or a behavior that is acquired by learning. An instinct is a natural pattern of behavior that basically serves the purpose of biological necessities. Instincts are not learnt. The responses occur naturally. Instincts can also be seen as strong natural impulses. These impulses enhance the chances of survival. For instance, when a baby is born, allowing the child to get close to the mother’s breast naturally triggers the impulse to search for and engage the breast. You don’t need to teach a child to suck the breast. However, you need to teach a mother to suckle the child.
The correct positioning and other approaches towards providing the adequate nourishing that a child needs through breastfeeding is something that mothers have to learn. The initial basic means of communicating a child’s needs or feelings is either through crying (discomfort/displeasure) or smiling (comfort/pleasure). A neonate (baby in the first month of life) uses these two behaviors to communicate feeling states. As the child continues to grow physically and psychologically, other feeling states in response to the child’s experience begins to develop. For instance, if in the process of sucking the breast, the child (while relishing the pleasure of the breast and its contents) mistakenly bites the mother’s nipple, and is rewarded with a spank; this is Lesson number 1 “Don’t bite mummy’s nipple again!!!” Lots of mothers do this to their babies to communicate their pain or displeasure. However, the other side of it is that, the baby is now being taught another way of communicating displeasure or discomfort, which is inflicting pain on someone else. With this, the child has moved away from instinctive behavior to behavior acquired by experience.
Learning is the change in behavior that is brought about by experience. Generally, almost every theorist seems to agree that aggression or violent tendencies are not natural instincts. An individual’s feeling state becomes more complex as he or she grows older. In the same way as these feeling states increase in complexity, the responses to the feeling states also become more complex or variable as the individual becomes more experienced. Hence, being angry is not a problem. What the individual does when angry might be the problem. An individual might decide to shout and rant when annoyed while another may choose to just throw a punch at the source of the displeasure. The choice of response is highly dependent on previous experience with regards to what had previously worked. A previous response that had allowed the individual to achieve his/her expectations will be a motivation for that response to be adopted again and again. A landmark experiment by an American psychologist Albert Bandura demonstrated that human behavior can be acquired by observation and imitation of such behaviors. The persistence of the behavior was also shown to be dependent on the motivation that follows the behavior. If a child grows up in a violent neighborhood where brawls are regarded as a means of determining dominance or respect, such a child will naturally learn to see that lifestyle as a means to becoming acceptable or recognizable.
The caveat is that we should not completely jettison the contribution of human biology to aggression. In looking at this, we need to consider the role of aggression in lower animals. In a previous article “Coping with Spousal Abuse” I mentioned the fact that the role of aggression in lower animals is actually for individual survival and specie preservation. Within the same species, animals will fight for food, territory, mates etc in order to be able to continue to survive. Only the fit survives and most times, the winner takes it all. Among different species, animals fight for food, territory and in response to predatory impulses. In most animals, the male tends to be at the forefront of actualizing these basic needs. The males of most animal species are most likely the ones who will fight over the females and be actively involved in securing their territory. From fish to cat, dogs, rats, lions etc. some have associated this with the so called “Male hormone” factor, testosterone. They have also tried to use this to explain why biologically, men are more prone to being violent and aggressive more than women. It is more acceptable for men to be soldiers than women. Men are the ones more likely to be culturally allowed to flog themselves to determine who gets the bride. It was previously impossible to see women engage in sports like boxing or wrestling because these physical sports were exclusively activities for men. Over the years, we now see women who are now involved in these sports completely negating the concept that aggression and violence and the other acceptable means of presenting such behavior to the general populace is exclusive to men alone.
I will conclude this week’s article by saying something about motivation for the persistence of aggressive or violent behavior. The likelihood that an individual will repeat a behavior is highly dependent on the consequences or the outcome of that behavior. If the outcome of engaging in a behavior is pleasant to the individual then there is a high possibility of that person adopting such behavior again and again. The motivation “to do” or “not to do” depends on what we want to see happen or what we want to avoid. Hence, there is a strong possibility of an individual stopping a behavior if there is no motivation for the behavior, or choosing another alternative or more rewarding behavior if there is no motivation for such a behavior. If an individual engages in aggression or violence as a means of communicating with others and is rewarded consistently for his aggressive behavior, he/she will continue to engage in this behavior because of the reward or motivation that is the outcome of the behavior. Any other person who now observes this behavior and sees the reward that comes after can easily begin to engage in such behavior to achieve similar outcomes. Basically, this is what happens in observational learning. We can either learn from our experience or the experience of others. A young child that observes his/her parents physically engaging themselves to drive home their points will find it very easy to engage in brawls anywhere, anytime.
Physically assaulting another person to drive home a point is not an instinct, it is learnt from experience.
The experience could be our own or that of others. When we have the right motivations (subjectively pleasant) following aggressive or violent behavior, it increases the likelihood of such behavior recurring. When we have information promoting favorable outcomes from violent behaviors, it subconsciously reinforces such behavior among the general populace. That is why we must insist on #DiamondBankMustSayNoToViolence by Diamond Bank removing their promotional cartoon publicizing partner violence! We must all speak with one voice on this!! To be a part of this campaign, share a comment with this harshtag on twitter, facebook, instagram, etc.
I will be concluding this series next-week. Until then, kindly stay “Safe and Sane” and help someone do the same by sharing this sparingly.
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