Why are our children violent?

They are violent because -

First they have been BRUTALIZED

Physically abused – beaten at home or in the streets - bullied – psychologically abused – loosing a loved one to violence - socially abused including being suspended from school is a form of brutalizing

Second they will be become BELLIGERENT

Belligerency – acting out is what our children do to get suspended from our schools and community centers. When our children are being belligerent they are asking for HELP!! Not more rejection. When we reject them we further BRUTALIZE them.

Third they will try VIOLENCE

The will test the “waters” to see if violence “works for them” and if successful

Fourth they will use VIOLENCE to solve some of their problems

We as a community need specific programs that focus, on the specific needs of the child that we are dealing with.

If the child is abused he or she needs to be HEALED! We must see the injury and help the child heal.

If the child has become belligerent then a more intense set of programs will be needed to help that child HEAL! Again we must see the underlying injury and help the child heal.


These four steps have been identified by Dr Lonnie Athens.

Prepared by Tom Spellman 414 403 1341


There are many programs that will help our children heal from their abuse.

One such program that I have and a number of others from the Milwaukee community have experienced is the Community Building Works Shop as used by Dr Robert Roberts.

Community Building Workshops

The documented results of this program, working with men and women who were incarcerated and have been released is significant reductions in recidivism and also in the level of violence in their new crimes if they are not successful.

Community Building Workshops also heal those who have experienced abuse but not become “violent” person.

Let us as a community put on the table the array of programs that address Brutalization and Belligerency and see which ones work best with our children and then establish those programs as the BEST PRACTICES for our children who have been Brutalized

There are many other issues but just maybe another critical one is the elimination of violence in our detention – correctional facilities (prisons).

How does Community Building as presented by Bob Roberts fit into the “big picture”?

Bell Hooks in her book “All About Love:New Visions” describes the issue confronting us today as clearly as anyone I have read. Please note that Bell Hooks was often beaten by her father.

“Like every wounded child I just wanted to turn back time and be in that paradise again, in that moment of remembered rapture where I felt loved, where I felt a sense of belonging.

We can never go back. I know that now. We can go forward. We can find the love our hearts long for, but not until we let go grief about the love we lost long ago, when we were little and had no voice to speak the heart’s longing. …. When that mourning ceased I was able to love again.”

This is a blue print of where each of us and each of our brutalized children and adults in our community have gone or need to go to be free of those “wounds” of our childhoods.

The “wounding” process in our childhood has been observed and described by Dr. Lonnie Athens. His life and understanding of violent behavior is recorded in a book by Richard Rhodes titled “Why They Kill.”

Dr Athens observed that all violent individuals had gone through a four stage process that began with “brutalization”. Brutalization occurs in many forms from active - beating and or abuse, to passive - listening to a loved one being beaten or abused, to psychological where the abuser only uses put downs and verbal abuse. However the person is brutalized the effect is the same. The person is burdened (with a hundred pound sack of potatoes on their back and told to stand tall) and until that burden is lightened or lifted off the person stagers through life.

The second stage Dr Athens calls “belligerency” where the individual who has been brutalized begins to fight back, begins to say to herself or himself that they are not going to “take it anymore”.

What is important about these two stages is that intervention programs can be designed that directly addresses the processes that are occurring in the person’s life that will alter the violent path the person is on.

What Community Building and Bob Roberts brings to the table is a process that directly addresses Bell Hooks observation “but not until we let go grief about the love we lost long ago”.

Open wounds weaken us. It is not until a wound heals into a healthy scar that we are strengthened by our suffering. The trouble is that our wounds cannot truly heal until our suffering and the event(s) that caused it have been recognized and acknowledged by others - and the more, the better.

That is specifically what the environment of Community Building circles facilitate - that level of deep interaction among virtually anyone who is wounded - and that means all of us.

It is the power of the healing circle that allows the brutalized individual to begin a new journey. A journey back to feeling, back to trust, back to caring, back to nurturing - themselves and those they love.

What we are discussing today is this last part of the “big picture”.

Below is an overview of the Community Building Model

Participants gather in a circle for two or three eight- hour days, having in mind a single goal of commitment to become a “true community.” The workshop is entirely experiential; that is, the members of the group do not receive instructions on how to become a community or how to behave in a community. Peck’s reasoning is that passive learning, while easy, is almost invariably shallow; experiential learning, on the other hand, although demanding, is infinitely more profound and rewarding. In accordance with the community building model only a few “ground rules” regarding communication and commitment are offered by workshop leaders:

  • Each participant is responsible for the success of the task.

  • Participants should voice their displeasure within the group process and share these feelings with the entire group, not to individuals during breaks.

  • The group must commit to “hang in” through periods of anxiety, frustration, doubt, anger, depression, and even despair, which may be expected on the way to community.

  • The group must be committed to confidentiality.

  • Other procedural norms, such as punctuality, the wearing of name tags and stating one’s name prior to speaking, are established by the two workshop facilitators.

  • Participants are told by the two workshop facilitators that two of the greatest barriers to communication are speaking when one is not moved to do so and failing to speak when one is so moved.

Next a story that is a metaphor for community building is read to the circle of participants. This is followed by three minutes of silence. Then the community building process begins.

Through each group is unique, a pattern of progressive and essential stages in community building is identifiable:

  • Pseudo-community. This is characterized by politeness, avoidance of overt disagreement, denying individual differences, beliefs that a “community” already exists, and indifference/resistance to the goal of building a community and lack of assertion of feelings. These feelings are often anger and paranoia about being there (nonvoluntarily), genuine curiosity and hopeful interest, or fear and confusion.

  • Chaos. In this stage, open conflict can be quite apparent with attempts to “heal and convert” others into adopting a particular way of thinking. To end the chaos, some groups will attempt to organize into subgroups or structured discussion, which is incompatible with developing community.

  • Emptiness. This stage is the bridge to community. Emptiness refers to the difficult task of letting go of one’s barriers to community. These barriers are commonly things such as expectations and preconceptions about the group, prejudices, or the need to fix or control the group or to appear to “have it all together.” The experience of recognizing and letting go of these barriers is called “group death”

  • Community. Once the group has completed the task of emptiness, it enters community. It is during this stage that the dynamics of the group change. Characteristics such as the expression of and respect for individual differences, shared leadership, spontaneity, quietness, joy, commitment to embracing painful realities and the ability to begin thinking about the health of the group as a whole can emerge.

Last edited by Olde.   Page last modified on February 11, 2007

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