Viewpoint: Facing an epidemic of vicarious violence
Jun 02, 2014 | 538 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
We pay large amounts of money to watch people kill one another on giant movie theater screens.

Video games allow for players to live a psychopathic life of crime.

America’s favorite sport, football, clearly rewards brutality.

Our increasing tolerance of, and lust for, vicarious violence is frightening.

The upward trajectory of vicarious violence is matched by the increasing amounts of dehumanizing media we’re exposed to: “Reality television” turns supposed real-life personal heartbreak and tragedy into entertainment. The Internet is casually rife with porn and horrific imagery.

It’s no surprise we’re seeing more and more mass shootings at schools and other public venues, more incidents of road rage and even more heinous crimes committed by children. When we’re inured to violence and we lose our appreciation for the value of every human life, society can become terribly cruel, even sadistic.

How can you shield yourself and your family from dehumanizing media?

1. Don’t give your children “junk food” media. You wouldn’t let your kids eat a candy bar with Yoo-hoo for breakfast, pizza for lunch and a plate of cheese fries for dinner. Discourage junk media by encouraging stimulating discussions and edifying reading material at an early age. Children are full of curiosity and wonder. Don’t be afraid to engage with them on their questions about life, even if you don’t have all the answers.

2. Already addicted to vicarious violence? Exercise your empathy. Are you captivated by clownishly aggressive young women having meltdowns on TV? Rather than taking petty pleasure with a palpable dash of superiority in witnessing that footage, you might instead wonder why you are supporting the exploitation of broken, emotionally immature people. That young woman could be your daughter, sister, friend, or co-worker who forever regrets her misguided choices while a young person.

3. Read a book! Focusing on anything for an extended period of time is inherently pleasurable, and reading a book — but please, not a murder mystery — provides the kind of engagement that is far more satisfying than vicarious violence. If it has been awhile since you’ve read a book, you’ll feel just as good as you do when you exercise and eat right. Reading is good for you. Fiction is shown to increase empathy among readers, and nonfiction books broaden your understanding of how the world works.

4. Engage with the people around you. One way vicarious violence works is by a disassociation with the person being abused. This disassociation is probably being amplified by seeing people as two-dimensional profiles online — more like vague entities than human beings. Take time to renew and strengthen relationships. Pay attention to your family members. Understand your neighbor may have had a rough day.

Heck, maybe the checkout girl at the store could use a smile and a kind word. Isn’t life more interesting when you’re engaged with what and who is around you?

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(About the writer: L. Craig Williams holds a bachelor's degree in European history and a juris doctor specializing in international law. He has written extensively about human resources and individual leadership. Williams has been an International Fellow of Columbia University, has published articles on comparative law and was a director of the German-American Law Association for many years. He has lived in Germany, France and England, and currently makes his home in New York.)