(initially written in 1994)


Violence in our society is extremely destructive, costing billions of dollars each year in prisons, medical care, loss of innocent life, etc. The only permanent solution to all violence in society, as well as in an individual, is to prevent the buildup of unexpressed feelings in the first place. 

Our society seems tragically unaware of the potential danger of unexpressed emotional pain. That pain doesn’t just dissipate on its own. A few fortunate children have an opportunity for expression with healthy adults who can address it and teach them how to handle it appropriately. But where does the emotional pain of the unlucky children go?

For far too many kids, that pain stays unexpressed inside in the early stages. Then the feelings continue to build and pile upon themselves, often for years, getting stronger and stronger, ultimately turning into rage, fury and violence. If these emotions are not acknowledged up front and allowed release in a healthy manner, they will be released somehow...and in ways society does not approve of. 

Expressed outwardly, their anger is seen in the form of classroom disruption, bullying, animal killing, torture, rape, domestic violence, child abuse, or outright mass killings. Expressed inwardly it is seen in the form of addictions, suicides, cutting, eating disorders, depression and chronic anxiety.

There are hardly any places currently for young children to safely share their emotions and be heard, loved and respected. Feelings of being bullied, abused or neglected by siblings, parents or others, during growing up years need a healthy natural release. Conversely, adults are encouraged to share their feelings at many various anonymous meetings and community groups. Why are we still denying our children that same basic, well known and natural need?

Most of society is extremely uncomfortable with acknowledging these deep “negative” emotions within themselves even, let alone in their children. So we have not been able to admit that there is a dire need for a healthy expression of them, before they build to rage. It is easier and more acceptable for society to focus on weapons, drugs, illegal immigration or almost anything else, as the cause of violence in our society. 

Millions of Americans do not have time for themselves and their emotional needs, let alone time for all of their children’s emotional needs. In addition, one or both parents are often working, usually out of economic necessity and coming home exhausted with still more household chores to do. With several children in a family, inner life is forced to take a back seat in the whirlwind of family life, which comes at a huge price for everyone, including society.

Most parents do not know of healthy ways to express their own negative emotions, let alone teach their children how, so we cannot justifiably blame parent abusers for their actions! They do not know how to overcome their abusive teachings they received growing up, without help. Anyone who abuses a child is doing it out of their own anger, rage or frustration. They've no doubt been abused or traumatized themselves, when they were young and do not know any other way of being. They do the best they know how, with what they've been taught and learned as children, so we cannot blame parents totally.

This is sad for me to recognize, so I would like to shine some light on this “elephant in society’s living room. ”It takes a “village” to raise emotionally healthy children to adulthood and we don’t live in tribes or have a village any more to help us out. Extended families, who used to live nearby, have mostly disappeared. 

Therefore we, as a society, can NOT continue to rely on, or expect parents alone, to have the knowledge and time to tend to the angry and frustrating emotions of their little ones, in a healthy manner. Our children are desperate to feel heard and respected by someone they trust as they become future adults and citizens.

The late Marshall Rosenberg devoted many years traveling around the world and in corporate America, teaching people how to listen to each other empathically because, to be heard is a basic human need. Alice Miller, a well known psychologist said that even a badly abused child can turn out to be a happy, productive citizen if they have at least ONE person in their life who can listen to them and allow them to feel heard and respected.

In our ever increasing stressful society, every child deserves the right to a healthy emotional development. We have a powerful opportunity, to relieve our children of the extreme stress of carrying their emotional burdens alone. 

We as a society, can choose to either provide healthy opportunities for children to verbally share their personal anguish when very young, or we can continue to not listen and experience physical violence from them later on...it is our societal choice. What better place to offer children help, then in our public schools and daycare centers where children gather every day, year after year? 

It takes a special adult to be able to allow a child to feel heard. I am certain that if we have the will, we can train volunteer “mentors and listeners” to effectively listen to every toddler and child express painful emotions in small group discussions daily. This can be done in a safe setting, in day care centers, pre-school and grade schools across America.

Trained volunteers do not have to "fix" a child’s life or even stop abuse in it, referrals can be made to other programs specifically designed to address special situations. Volunteer listener trainees can be almost any willing person, from college and high school students to older and retired people, after thorough background checks and specific training. 

If “future adults” are respected and heard as children, they will then know how to break the violence cycle for themselves as well as their own potential children for generations. Only then can a more nurturing, respectful and peaceful society flourish.

The first step however, is to convince society that (1) toddlers as well as young children deserve and are desperate for, an opportunity to be lovingly and respectfully heard. (2) implement a plan that will require every school and day care center across the United States to provide well trained volunteer listeners and mentors from the community; people who can maintain trusting relationships from pre-school, through grade school at least. This is the "village" we need nowadays.

Along with listener mentors, we also need to redesign our schools by “marrying” the educators with the social workers and psychologists, together under one roof or close by. That way the emotional needs of students will be tended to by those most qualified, leaving teachers free to teach. 

The current school counselors could be responsible for training and managing the trained volunteer listeners. Working in this preventative manner should prove much less stressful for social workers.

Social workers and psychologists would then be able to focus full time on the prevention of violence, if they were in a school or close by. This could eventually replace overburdened case workers, who must yank children out of homes and away from parents who simply did not know how to listen to them. Social workers and psychologists would then be free to focus on the concerns of the children referred to them by the specially trained listeners. This collaboration could go a long way towards preventing violence in our society.

With continued opportunities for children to receive the emotional respect and support they deserve, rage and fury will simply cease to exist. Feeling heard, loved and respected alone would prevent much of the internal and dangerous buildup of violent emotions we see expressed in society today.

Eventually the unprecedented amount of federal, state and local monies that are now being spent for a criminal justice system that simply doesn't work, can be redirected toward covering the cost of an education system that also includes a much needed emotional development. Our society cannot feel peaceful until our children feel peaceful while growing up, since our society is made up of grown up children.

Will we continue as we are, blaming everything else for the daily societal violence we witness? Or are we ready to grow into a healthy and peaceful society, where all future adults can grow up feeling respected, loved and heard, by a caring and supportive "community village?" We have only two challenges, #1-Rearrange our country's priorities and #2-Put a simple, inexpensive listening solution into practice.