“I just want to burn out hard and bright”: Violence and Young Men

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December 7, 2012 by John Buckley

Ryan Adams sings of wanting to burn out hard and bright. I was listening to his song ‘Firecracker’ and it got me thinking of young men. Many, it seems just think about the right now and for many violence is a facet of that. The buzz and rush of landing that punch.

Love Hate: Series 3 (RTE)

This is said every year, but 2012 was a particularly bad year for the level of violence that we saw amongst young people in Ireland. Last week saw a type ‘lad’ altercation, turn into the death of 22-year-old German man. And today saw Gardaí searching for 2 people in connection with the death of a young man in his 20’s on Dawson Street.

Aggression is something that is natural. Everyone has aggression, I do. The difference that we see from person to person is how people deal with or manage aggression. And where do we learn these skills? Well we take in from all around us, quite often it’s been sited that violence in young men is a product of their environment, taking into account biological factors.

What’s not natural is the level of violence we are seeing. During my time growing up I was lucky to not have been in too many fights. But I’ve been in situations where my aggression levels, adrenaline, anger have been soaring. It’s a strange emotion to describe. It’s like a bubbling, a boiling. I was once in a situation where I witnessed another man hit a woman. I lost it. I intervened without hitting the other person, but I could see how easy it would’ve been to go the other way. There’s a fine line.

The feeling I was left with after was a shaking, a buzzing and seriously heightened sense of emotion. I have seen how young lads get a buzz out of ‘violence’. What they’re actually getting a buzz out of is the hormones that are released by aggression. So it’s how we manage it, that’s what we need to focus on and it needs to start at an early age. Positive and constructive ways of channeling aggression, so we can retain the benefits of those hormones that buzz! Channel it!

Andy Irons (a former pro surfer) spoke of ‘inner demons’ that he faced regularly. But he also spoke of the impact of surfing on those demons. When he surfed, he came out of the water a different person. Channeling is extremely important and I think sport has a huge role to play in many ways for young men, but other things too like channeling through writing, art, whatever else gets us buzzing.

Channeling is one part, but what about respect. The environmental messages that young men are receiving in relation to violence, if not countered productively, will only have an increased negative impact (I sound like some moaner here). Language of disrespect and violence, images of extreme violence and valuing of violence, the development and respecting of role models who could ‘beat the shit of you’, has a significant impact.

I was only out the other night when conversation jokingly moved to who lads could beat up or knock out. It was flippant, it’s something that lads do all the time, but it’s worrying. We don’t need Nidge or Darren, (from Love/Hate).  We don’t need Chris Browns. We don’t need lyrics like those promoting beating women or peers. We don’t need to promote violence as natural through video games. But there is a demand for it.

We need to promote real mutual respect for one another by celebrating difference, finding alternative ways of resolving conflict, allowing young men to use their aggression and drive productively. I know in some ways this is a simplistic view of things, but we are a product of our environment, and how much of our environment each day displays and promotes violence and disrespect?

There are so many factors involved, violence is a complex biological and social issue.  I think Lenny Abrahamson gave us a great insight into this, in his 2012 film ‘What Richard Did’. And I think it’s a piece that all young men and those who influence them need to watch. That one moment where aggression, becomes violence and that path that it leads us on.

How do we counter this? Can we fight off the demand that’s out there? We have to offer up real alternatives to young men, where they can get the buzzing that they crave, but it a way that protects them and others. This will involve a huge environmental shift. Do young men want to burn out hard and bright? I think some do and this is such a waste. Let’s channel natural aggression and use it positively.

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