London is burning and I guess now would be a good time to see with clear eyes. With all the violence around us, it’s tempting to roll our eyes and say “this is just crazy” and “it’s pure criminality”. But I think true peace will only come when we understand the fear we’re experiencing — and what creates it.
Most of us have had moments where we believe our worth as a human being is conditional on us doing the right thing, looking the right way or having the right stuff. We all do things and buy things to establish our place in an imaginary pecking order. And I think it affects us very deeply when we think we have to live that way and then we can’t make it work. We despair and lose our inner sense of worth. We start to destroy ourselves, and the destruction spills out — in small and bigger ways.
You don’t need to be a psychologist to understand the psychology of rioting. People who’ve felt powerless for years are intoxicated by a sudden surge of power. They thought they had only a few options and none of those gave them any hope. Suddenly the world opened up. They found they could totally control their environment. They dominated the streets and could smash or take anything they wanted. In those adrenaline-filled moments, they felt alive and powerful.
I grew up in care, didn’t go to school for many years and was homeless at 18. If you don’t understand what drives someone to smash up their own community, you’re fortunate. You haven’t visited that part of the human psyche and I’m glad for you. But if you think you’re better than those people who have, I think you’re wrong. You only made the best choices you knew how to make and that’s what the people on the streets are doing too. Your life unfolded in a way that you can see more of the choices that are available to you. Some people don’t have that clarity yet.
What turned my life around was noticing I could make a difference in my own life. Relying on something external that can be taken away (by government policy, benefit cuts, etc.) is a way to live in constant insecurity — that’s what leads to fear, expressed as frustration and anger. Knowing I have the power to choose my own path is the only thing that set me free.
While I work with a lot of successful people these days, I spend as much time working with people from backgrounds similar to mine. They’re successful in different way and they become more successful as they realise they have as much inner value as everyone else — that their value is their birthright as a human being and it can’t be lost unless they give it away.
When it’s really heard, that message is transformative — I’m constantly amazed by the difference it makes.
As Tom Carpenter said, ”Every form of lack – be it lack of money, lack of self-worth or lack of peace – arises from the belief that we have lost the ability to be loved. When we know that we are loved, it is impossible to think anything is missing.”
So when I hear people say the rioters “should be shot”, I want to remind those people – some of them my dear friends – that they’re part of the problem the rioters see and are trying in their own way to solve. If your response to their despair is to want them executed, how are you not part of the violence?
They are afraid and they turn to violence. You are afraid and you turn to violence.
I’ve heard other people say we should take away their benefits. As if throwing water over a drowning man will help.
The ones who are most unloveable are the ones who need our love most.
Can’t we see beyond the masks and machismo? These are desperate people trying to take control of their own lives in the best way they know. They don’t express themselves as victims because they are creating these riots to assert their power. But clearly they are suffering and trying to improve their lives. It doesn’t take much to see that.
David Cameron messed up the presentation when he said to “hug a hoodie” but I think his sentiment was right. People need to know they’re cared about.
What can you do in your community to show that all lives are equally valuable?