Attempts to Understand Violence


Over the years many theories have emerged to explain violence. Here are some of them:

  • Self control–Whether someone acts violently depends on what goes on inside him or her. This theory assumes that acting violently is a rational choice. A person decides to be violent for some reason. It also assumes that the person knows what he or she is doing and knows the consequences of violent action for oneself and for others but decides to go ahead with it anyway. It also assumes that the person has the option to act violently or not and chooses violence over other possible courses of action.
  • Social control–Here the person’s environment explains the violence. According to this theory, the person’s environment calls for violence which might be the only viable response available. Others in the immediate environs would act the same way, making violence almost a normal and expected response based on the context.
  • Cultural theory–Each culture has its own values and standards for when violence is acceptable and for what actions are acceptable. Included are norms for when violence is seen as appropriate. People living in that culture are expected to follow the norms for appropriate behavior.
  • Social learning theory–Individuals learn how to act by observing others in situations similar to theirs. Families, schools and religions all have ways of acting to which the young are exposed. Even when the rules are not explicit, young people see how others around them act in response to different situations. This theory suggests that what young people see around them forms the basis for their action in a wide variety of situations in the future.
  • Exchange theory–Violence achieves certain goals and benefits which outweigh the costs of acting violently. In other words, there is something to be gained from acting violently. Perhaps revenge, punishment, the hope of heading off future unwanted behavior of others or similar motivations form the incentive for a person to act in a violent way. The cost of such behavior is the risk of retaliation, legal punishment or social disapproval. In terms of this theory, a person weighs the pros and cons and, all things considered, may choose violence as the best option.
  • Systems theory–This theory takes into account the thoughts, actions and principles operating at individual, group and community levels. The theory is complex and comes closest to providing a many-faceted explanation of why violence occurs. It includes influences based on an individual’s inner workings; what happens around the person; what rules are incorporated from the person’s family and friends as well as neighborhood, community and government. This last theory incorporates most of the other theories.

These are theories from the fields of sociology and social psychology. They suggest explanations of complex behavior and soon become complicated themselves as they try to explain everything that comprises a pattern of violent behavior.

Violence is not an easy topic to explain or even define in simple terms. We need to take  a closer look at what contributes to violence on various levels including the biological, rational (or not so rational), emotional, family, social, community and societal.

(Excerpt from my book From Violence to Peace)

Thanksgiving in August


Although I regularly write a gratitude list in my journal, I have taken my eyes for granted. Last week I went for my annual eye exam. All went well until the end when Dr. Parsons discovered a possible a detached retina. He sent me immediately to Dr. Connolly, a retinal specialist in Rochester, who confirmed that I had a detached retina and scheduled me for surgery the next day.

I arrived at the Brighton Surgery Center in somewhat of a daze and rather nervous as you might imagine. I received wonderful care from the staff including Julie, Rita, Eric, Jillian and Ray as well as others. I left with a gas bubble in my eye to hold the retina in place while it reattaches. My post­-op recovery has so far been uneventful and I am being patient with my eye as it heals.

I was scheduled for jury duty last week. If I had ended up serving, I would have had to cancel my eye exam. Who knows when the detachment would have finally been discovered? Not attending to a detached retina can result in blindness.

Among the uncertainties, confusion, chaos and disasters of the recent past, I am most grateful to God for leading me back to the path of wellness, to Carol my lover and nurse, and to my medical team mentioned above.

What are you grateful for today?




Rochester Stories Released

Rochester Stories

Peter faced a new world and it was hard to get a clear picture of where he stood or where he was going with his life but he had to follow the treatment plan laid out for him. He had to find a life for himself after the hospitalization. He did not know how hard it would be or how long the road to recovery would be. It would indeed take a long time to find something resembling a normal life. Starting out, he would know nothing about what was ahead for him, so for a time he lived in a group home following others’ plans for him as best he could.

All he knew was that his past was gone. He felt a brief freedom after getting out of the hospital but found new rules at the group home when he discovered he had to live with thirteen other people that he did not know. It was hard for him to know what the bigger picture was, so he allowed himself to be guided by others. All that he knew was that he needed to make a new life for himself. He would gather with strangers every night for dinner and he took pills kept in the office by staff. He had been put on medication and at the group home his medications were kept under strict lock and key. What a strange adventure he had to face each day.

Everything was so different from what he had known in the past. His working life was behind him and what he did before did not seem to matter anymore. The truck he once owned was gone. His career as a professional construction worker was gone as well. He felt stranded without his job or truck. All he had worked for was gone. All that he had now was given to him at the group home. His family seemed lost to him somewhere along way. He was placed on the disabled list and that was something that changed him, forcing him to accept new realities.

Being in Rochester put him far away from his friends and his past so he would have to make new friends. People he had known and worked with were all gone and the old realities of the past were replaced with a whole new set of circumstances. He could never explain what had happened to those he knew in the past. How could friends and family ever understand his situation when he could not understand it or explain it to himself? There was no easy way to face his situation. How could he ever face the people back in Batavia after what had happened? What had he become and how could he establish a new identity for himself?

He had a new status as a disabled construction worker and he struggled with the very idea of it. He was cut off from his own past life. Perhaps some day things would be different but all he could do for the time being was continue with his group home, stay in Rochester, and try to make sense of his situation. He would not be recognized as an artist anymore. But then he had bigger problems at the time.

What made his situation difficult was that he did not have a physical disability that was readily noticeable. He had a mental disorder, not a physical condition and that was hard to explain. He was a nut case, as he would put it to sum things up in a way that was easy to say but not to accept. He believed he was a nut because he could no longer do the regular things that seemed easy before.

He struggled with his illness. He struggled to accept his bipolar disorder that had been explained to him briefly. He found it difficult asking for help from anyone. One thing that was new to him was the funding he was receiving. It took a while to get his funding in place but he had worked ten years and that entitled him to certain benefits because he could not work full time construction anymore. He also applied for and soon after found himself with health insurance for the first time.

(Excerpt from Rochester Stories by Peter Langen)


Rochester Stories by Peter Langen just released

  • What is it like to face life inside the mental health system?
  • How do you find sanity again?
  • How do you deal with isolation?
  • How do you handle separation from you family?

These and other questions are addressed in this journey through six years in the mental health system.

Peter Langen was first diagnosed with a learning disability in seventh grade. From there, he went to Norman Howard School in Rochester where his interest in writing started and where he discovered books on tape. He took an interest in books for the first time.
In 1997 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a form of mental illness, and went to Rochester, New York to live for what turned out to be six years before his return to his home town of Batavia. He continued writing after graduating from Batavia High School in 1988 and has been writing ever since.
His first book, Rochester Stories, is an account of his days in Rochester as an adult. He continues to take medication for his bipolar condition. In the same way he has been able to cope with his learning disability, he is coping with his mental illness.
He creates artwork and writes books as well as keeping a journal. To this day, Peter continues to write and work on his art. He currently lives in Batavia, New York where he settled in 2003, a small city in western New York near his family.