London riots and Positive Psychology

I find myself having strong, conflicting emotions about the riots.  On the one hand I feel anger sorrow and fear about the actions of these young people and on the other hand have some understanding of their frustrations.

I feel anger at the young people for their lack of moral fibre and responsibility and anger towards their parents for not giving them guidance and nurturing them.  I feel sorrow for the shopkeepers and older generation who have seen their beloved community ripped apart.  And fear of the unknown. Fear of the paradigm shift.  Fear that social networking is a powerful ally of violent crime.

It’s easy to understand why people want a harsh crackdown and long sentences for those caught.  Before doing this it’s worth taking a long deep breath and reflecting on the things we love and cherish; the freedom of our political system, the strength of our still free press, our diverse multicultural society and our legal system.  All these pillars of our community have been battered and undermined in the last four years but it is still a fair, open and kind place to live for most of us.  As has been shown by the mass mop cleanup in Clapham and Hackney our communities are strong.  Most people in London are kind, honest and generous.

Many commentators have claimed that the riots have simply been about mass violent crime, organised using smart phones.  David Cameron has said that it’s a simple issue and that “pockets of our society are not only broken but frankly sick”.  He is so wrong, on so many levels.  Violence does not have a single cause, it has an infinite amount.  We need to explore the factors in a calm, dispassionate manner.  For example:

–         Britain has one of the largest computer gaming industries in the word, earning hundreds of millions for UK PLC.  Playing Violent computer games teaches malleable young minds to sever the link between action and consequences

–         We have drastically cut training budgets for young people.  My charity, Yourstory has seen a 70% decline in its funding from local authorities.  They mentor and educate some of the most troubled, disengaged young people in Lambeth and Southwark.

–         We have trebled university fees partly because the older generation has lived the high life for the last 20 years.  We spent beyond our means and now we tell young people that they should pay for their own education.  It’s normally the role of older generations to invest in their young.

–         Positive intentions can have unintended consequences.  We decided over the last 30 years that it was wrong for parents and teachers to hit children.  As this positive development occurred we have not found ways to replace harsh discipline with strong, nurturing alternatives

–         David Cameron said that these “thugs were allowed to feel that the world owes them something”.  However many of us feel a sense of deep injustice about the way the financial service industry has ripped us all off.  Their risky practices and bumper bonuses fuelled materialism and division.  When the asset bubble burst the squeezed middle in the UK paid the price through higher taxes and the young people had their education and training budgets frozen.  Within twelve months of the bailout the bankers were back into mega bonuses.

–         There are a number of studies suggesting that more time on social media like facebook leads to less actual human contact, a reduction in empathy for other people and a feeling that we need to out do each other.  Perhaps being in a riot provides the excitement, human contact and engagement lacking in every day experiences

–         We assume that all rioters are bad people.  However the psychologist, Philip Zimbardo has investigated pack behaviour in simulated prison environments and has shown that even the most mild and gentle people can demonstrate cruelty and extreme behaviours when acting in a group and when given a sense of power.  Power in a group is intoxicating and we need to explore how social networking fuels this pack behaviour

These are just a few ideas about possible contributing factors.  There are billions of others.  They cannot and should not excuse appalling behaviour but we should remember that when something as powerful as group violence erupts nothing is simple.

We all need to look into our hearts and examine our behaviours .  We all shape the world we live in through our intentions, thoughts and behaviours.   It is the young people in this country who will provide the dynamism and energy to create a positive future for all of us.  We need to invest in them and believe in their potential.



Posted on August 11, 2011, in Coaching, Meditation etc. and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I liked the flow and feel of your comments Andy

    Hopefully this will be resonated by those we come into contact with…

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