This article was written in consultation with Emeritus Professor aladin aladin, strategic counsel for Project 507 Limited.
Violence is complex. Practitioners talk of direct, cultural, as well as structural violence, therefore solutions to violence need to encompass this complexity in order to be able to generate a strategy that can address the root causes across the spectra. In this sense to deal with youth violence, we need to deal with violence as a whole, as it is too simplistic to attribute the rise of violence to the use of social media or the development of a particular type of music etc.
When dealing with violence we must also be careful that our actions do not inadvertently do harm; critical analysis of humanitarian work on a global scale has shown that sometimes even the best of intentions, can prove to be deadly when not thoroughly thought through. For instance, it has been observed that those working in the field of violence reduction, sometimes struggle to boundary their unconscious narratives from intruding into their capacity to intervene.
There is also heated competition and a corresponding lack of reality when it comes to the question of what people see to be a cure for violence. False and uninformed ways of depicting the problem are proliferating under the pressures of needing to come to public attention – there is a scramble to be in good standing with authorities and funders so the subject matter is too often cast in inaccurately binary terms: good vs. bad practitioners, Left vs. Right etc. This creates a culture of reactive, crisis-focused interventions that occur only after the acts of violence have occurred; this is arguably one of the most dangerous patterns in the violence reduction stratosphere. The peril that is competition for resources and for approval by authorities encourages over simplification and crudely appeasing formulas, rather than an honest knowledge-based approach to developing responses.
What is overdue is a wider understanding of human development, especially greater precision about why and how violence may manifest itself. A common appreciation of the evidence creates an equal playing field which enables all parts of society to be able to come together in creating a knowledge base which can inspire and generate solutions which work.
The understanding of this narrative is important, as it allows us to deal with the issue as a whole, rather than in fragments. Violence is emotive, therefore we must learn to be aware of all aspects of the emotions it triggers, not just of those involved in the violence but those working around it. This creates space for more authentic leadership and dialogue, where solutions can be developed without the interruption of egos. Without these spaces we end up with impractical, unchallenged, ego-driven, short term theories that focus on violence reduction and promote a feeling of achievement without a reality of results.
It is considered that there is a difference between violence reduction and peacebuilding, the former addresses symptoms and arguably does not affect the factors that perpetuates cycles of violence. Peacebuilding, however, is driven by critical analyses of the root causes and strives for strategic solutions, which are proactive yet allow space for continued reflective practice. Peacebuilding requires leadership so that efforts are not diverted to short term goals but can focus on long term strategies. This is arguably different from the frontline work that operates with a strong sense of moral obligation to the now, for this is the moment when the child has just been killed and the future can’t figure in the immediacy of trauma and grief.
It is from my own experience of stumbling and unravelling in my work at the frontline of working with people implicated in violence, that I have come to recognise the distorting structural pressures, which time and again would up end and disrupt my well informed intensions. It has been intensely frustrating and confusing for someone as committed as myself to have to contend with feelings of personal failure, when in actual fact these were merely symptoms of the irresistible influence of the need to have approval of powerful partners and protagonists, who are themselves under huge pressures to reach quantitative goals. Today I am keenly aware that the violence sector desperately needs to innovate but it can only do so, if all of us can come clean about the fact that the circumstance we operate in, prejudice our ability to do work that everybody can agree is founded on good principles.
It should be clear to all of us who are leaders, community members, officers in local authorities or members of government, that we should take the time to plan for peace, as apposed to being kept in these reactive cycles of violence.