The number of two-parent families in the U.S. has plummeted in the last decade. During the same period the number of violent youth gangs has skyrocketed, as gangs take over the father's traditional role of guardian and role model. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is only one real solution to the problem.
“If you're not tough, you just don't make it. Soft people don't make it in this world—you can either be the victimizer or the victim. And I choose to be the victimizer." —Los Angeles gang member speaking on ABC's "American Agenda.”
There are reported to be as many as 100,000 such victimizers in Los Angeles alone, held in check by a police force numbering less than 8,000. Children are being sucked into neighborhood gangs by the thousands, recruited into selling narcotics, killing people, and being killed themselves.
Why has this happened? What is the root cause of gangs? It is alarming how few people in power ask that question. The answer is becoming more and more obvious for those willing to face facts: The majority of these kids come from homes with no father. With this as the core problem that must be solved, all the police gang units and well-intended social programs are just band-aids on a hemorrhaging national wound.
In a tough ghetto environment, young children, and especially boys, need a father to fill the traditional role of guide and protector. If they do not have a decent father to teach them, they will turn to a gang "father" who will supply their basic need for guidance and protec-tion—except it will be the wrong guidance and may well cost them their lives.
Although absence of good fathers is the basic "disease," many bureaucrats and politicians prefer to focus on the symptom—gangs and their violent and illegal activities. Most of the attempts to deal with gangs fall into one of two extreme categories; both extremes do not work, because neither comprehends the real cause of the problem. And causes must be understood if we are to deal effectively with a major social problem such as gangs.
The first mistaken approach is to attack the problem angrily with¬out forethought. When we deal with gangs from a fear/rage overreaction, without addressing the influences that have shaped their lives as victims, we only feed their violence. This causes them to evolve even greater criminality in order to "one-up" their enemy—society. In other words, they evolve a greater capacity for violence because of their reaction to our denial of the real problem—that gang members are victims who have evolved into victimizers. But this angry approach on the part of society never acknowledges that the gang member is part victim.
The deeper that society goes into denial of true cause and effect relationships—that the gang mentality evolves from a poor home environment, and that means us as parents—the more society will instead focus on the symptom, with greater violence and less understanding. Thus, the gangs will evolve more and more criminal violence and aggression, feeling justified in their actions. Why? Because now society's denial, blaming the kids and not the parents, is duplicating what happened in the gang member's home in the first place. His parents never took responsibility for their own problems, which expressed themselves in the form of their children's aberrant behavior. This parental denial is precisely what spawned the gang mentality and lifestyle in the first place.
The other wrong extreme method of dealing with gangs is to take the "nice guy" approach. Especially popular with liberals, this is the more dangerous of the two approaches. Troubled as they are, gang youths are very perceptive; they have an extreme, almost violent contempt for hypocrisy, especially when it comes in the form of a pseudo-intellectual, Phil Donahue-type individual who is convinced that false, coddling love and more social programs will quench the burning anger in these troubled young people.
In reality, this condescending and phony approach represents the other end of the denial spectrum. While the violent, angry approach to controlling gangs denies the victim side of these youths, the contemptible, pseudo-intellectual "nice guy" approach denies their victim-izer side—and thereby strengthens it. The hatred and contempt that gang youths feel is a predictable reaction to weak, pretentious authority. After all, everyone has contempt for blatant hypocrisy; in gangs, however, this contempt expresses itself in the form of violent behavior.
This phony, elitist, "do-gooder" approach, devoid of any real understanding of cause and effect of the gang phenomenon, is more concerned with looking good and compassionate than with addressing the real problem. "Do-gooder" politicians, especially, are more interested in their own public image and sense of greatness. Even though they have convinced themselves that they really do want to help, all they actually have is a need for admiration that smacks of a serious ego problem. These types of people, because they come across as compassionate and socially concerned, are usually very adept at marketing themselves to the general public; understandably, well-meaning Americans buy into this appealing rhetoric at the voting booth. Only later do they find out that it is these "nice guy" politicians and experts who have created social programs that have actually promoted the breakdown of the family.
Very simply: These people have no understanding of the problem. So they enact laws and programs devoid of any real solution, but which instead actually encourage the lower qualities of human nature, while simultaneously ripping away the incentive to excel. They offer welfare—being paid not to work—instead of creating community incentives to work and learn. They deflect public policy away from real solutions, all with apparent good intentions, but sadly with no real understanding of the devastating effect their "false compassion" has on an already demoralized and angry youth.
Such hypocrisy only tends to create a crippling dependency on handouts, which is very degrading to anyone with any self-respect. This type of humiliation of the disadvantaged class of society has a predictable outcome: violent rebellion. To attempt to salvage their self-respect, they would rather steal from and abuse others, than to suffer the humiliation of being a crippled dependent. So in a sense, through society's false love and lack of understanding, these already underprivileged youths are again victimized, by being robbed of their self-respect and incentive to grow beyond their circumstances. The only way they can see out of this cycle of dependency is to become a victimizer, whereby they can reclaim a sense of power and perverse productivity.
Both of these extreme tactics (brutality and false love) only feed the problem, making matters worse. In neither case are we facing up to the truth; the kids know it, and they hate us for it. But most adults cannot see through the children's rage to comprehend what they are trying to tell us. If we could listen without either spoiling or hating them, and be objective to their plight, there might be hope for a real change.
Almost every criminal comes from a cruel environment. This in¬cludes some "nice middle-class homes" which seem to have good Judeo Christian values. However, surface appearances can be very deceiving.
The problem is that parents don't want to believe they are hurting their own children. Parental denial can be so strong that often when a parent abuses his child severely, he rationalizes it as a momentary lapse that the child will soon forget. But, children do not easily forget even minor parental injustices.
Denial is a powerful thing; people can live in denial of life-threatening problems like smoking or drug abuse (whole societies can do the same thing). Most people do not like to see their personal failings, especially parents with regard to their children. Parents typically avoid facing the truth about their bad parenting by blaming their children, as if somehow the child grew up wrong in a vacuum. Many of us in society are unable or unwilling to look at the real causes — and cures—of the gang epidemic because to do so requires that we take an extremely sober and close up look at our own lives as parents.
In a microcosm, we do with our children exactly what society does in its extreme efforts to deal with gangs. We are too cruel and resentful to our children, and then too "nice" and weak, to make up for the guilt of being too cruel in the first place. But neither of these two extremes contains the one missing component that makes children whole, and that crucial element, which is in such short supply these days, is good old, down-to-earth love. Tough love is neither angry nor hypocritically weak. It is a type of strength that takes selflessness on the part of the parent—or the society. It means taking personal responsibility for the failings of our children, and recognizing that their failings originated in us. Children are really a barometer of what's going on inside us as parents.
This is a painful realization for a parent in a state of denial, but to treat a problem, you must first identify the cause, and then deal with it honestly and completely. Selfishness is the main element that hurts our children: the selfishness of impatience and then the selfish-ness of the denial that we were impatient, the selfishness of allowing ourselves to be vehicles of hatred and cruelty, and the selfishness of wanting our children to love us without caring how our wrong is affecting them.
The simple fact is that teenage revolution—and here we are talking about serious rejection of parents and society—cannot be separated from a cause, obvious or subtle. Thousands of kids out in the streets looking for victims to prove their "victimizer" status is evidence of an extremely serious root problem in the home.
Now, if we are willing to consider that parents are responsible for how their children turn out, then we can objectively look at the basic cause of gangs.
Most problems of youth can be laid squarely at the door of the father's neglect, abusiveness, or complete absence. Not long ago, it was considered scandalous for a husband to leave his family. Social custom prohibited it—there were rules, and certain things just weren't done by decent people.
However, in the last thirty years, our society has undergone a radical transformation of values; these changes, which began with the '60s counter-culture movement, have been devastating to families on all levels of society, but they have been most devastating to the poor.
Historically, traditional values were an important safety net for the poor; a strong family unit and upright children were not only a parental joy, but were also the only way to survive and prosper in a very stressful environment. The feminist movement, with its avowed anti-family agenda, was no friend to the impoverished mother of the inner city, who was already working (unlike many of her suburban sisters), had no use for sexual liberation, and had an outright fear of "no-fault" divorce. But these were the goals of the bored suburbanites and avowed lesbians who dominated the early leadership of the feminists. The counter-culture, which moralized a lot about the poor, dabbled in sex, drugs, and irresponsibility, had its fun, and went back to suburbia, leaving the ghettos of America's cities in moral disarray.
The end result of this and other powerful social influences was the breakdown of the family and the promotion of a new kind of male, one that was "liberated" from any real sense of responsibility to women and the family. Today, with the inner-city community saddled with a staggering percentage of single mothers, the feminists have switched their agenda to federal daycare assistance. Although there is a need, it won't address the real and desperate problem of fatherless families.
It is very difficult for abandoned women to raise children properly. Unconsciously, they tend to hate not only the absence of the father of their children, but also their burdensome responsibility, and sadly, their innocent children too—and the kids feel that. From this point of view, arguments between Dad and Mom at the dinner table were more tolerable because at least the adults were taking the heat. But when Dad is gone, only the children are left to bear the brunt of their mother's anger and frustration, whether overt or subtle.
The responsibility of a parent, especially a man, is to protect, love, and nurture, which means to guide children (by his example) to good values and ethics—which is particularly important in the ghetto where powerful negative influences surround the child.
By adhering to sound values, a good parent teaches the benefits and virtues of not giving in to the pressures of a bad environment, or indulging in selfish impulses—in other words, to be neither the victim nor the victimizer. In short, parents must lead the way to their children's realization of their fullest potential. Fathers especially must show themselves to be true to the principle of standing up against injustice with patience, courage, and dignity.
Tragically, about 60 percent of all African-American children are born out of wedlock. When the father fails the mother of his children by abandoning her, by becoming an alcoholic or drug abuser, or simply by not being a moral example, what happens to the family? The mother—resenting the burden of being a surrogate father, a role for which she is not really equipped—often compensates with false, accommodating love for her children or emotional bullying in order to keep them in line.
Her resentment of the responsibility of raising the children makes her feel guilty, and this evolves into a deeper need to be "liked" by them. Sadly, she often spoils her children while trying to hold on to their affections. She is not able to deliver the full force of real tough/masculine love that it takes to deal with the male children properly.
Little boys resent the mother's manipulative authority, because what they really want, and need, is a dad's more direct authority. Although she tries to be loving and kind and to do the best she can, she simply doesn't have what it takes. As most single women who have tried it know, raising boys properly requires a mature and loving male presence.
When a boy is tempted to hate his unjust and often absent dad, that very hate corrupts him; his innocence is ruined. After all, his parents are everything he knows of life; he is an extension of them, and therefore cannot hate them without undermining the very ground of his own being. Once compromised by this deep-seated resentment, powerful self-destructive and rebellious tendencies take hold of the child, and displace the true self that should have developed within him under the watchful eye of loving parents.
Now the child goes into denial; he can't face the fact that his identity is changing (due to his resentment toward his parents). He becomes defensive, confused, and dangerous to anyone who might confront him with how he has changed. This is because, in his now-warped pride, he tends to defend whatever has gone wrong with him. His new rebellious identity seeks the nurturing of a support group that will reinforce his new identity as being "cool." In fact, in this rebellious, hateful state of mind, he will start to develop an altered male identity. And this male identity will embody all of the lowest impulses and drives of human nature.
To compensate for feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, hate, and rebellion, he will express the false macho of the victimizing criminal male.
If children had true love in their home, none of the gangs and cults would have any real power. But abusive parents, feeling guilty, tend to make up for their failings by employing spoiling, false love in place of real love. Without knowing it, they are setting up their children to hate whatever decency there is left in the family structure. The more conformist-oriented children hate, but accept, the status quo; the rest of the kids hate and reject everything. They are the runaways (numbering over a million per year) and the gang members.
In their own crazy way, these rebels are more "honest" about their feelings, and for this reason American society has always been fascinated by them. Movies are filled with rebel characters who tell society to take a hike. And yet, in real life, rebellion is a dangerous path that all too often leads to a ruined life. In the 1960s, there were thousands of men and woman who rebelled for all the wrong reasons and never recovered their true sense of self.
Once corrupted and rebellious, children often gravitate to the lowest common de-nominator to seek the false "love and acceptance" their angry identity craves. To escape from the shame of their corrupted nature, they unconsciously seek out the type of person who will encourage them all the more, and then exploit their rebellious attitude while supplying a phony, supportive love. This is exactly what happens in gangs. Cults and gangs have one thing in common; they both provide what appears to be family love and acceptance of a rejected child. The degraded outcast becomes glorified as a "somebody" in the eyes of the gang—often being given unique nicknames like "Killer," "Fat Mike," and "Baby Monster." But a child would not fall victim to being enslaved to the gang hierarchy if he had a good home environment on which he could depend. Truly, it is the parents who, subtly or overtly, have pushed their children to such an end.
"The gang is your family. If you're my homeboy, I fight for you, no matter what the odds. If you're the enemy, it’s do or die.”(1) The gang member who said this was abandoned by his father at age ten.
Where are the men to save this generation of young Americans lost in a nightmare that began practically at birth? Where are the men who are ready to take matters in hand and teach principles of right and wrong?—to return sanity to their neighborhoods by being big brothers to the sons of abandoned women, and by remaining fathers to their own children no matter what the sacrifice?
Former Los Angeles gang member Marianne Diaz knows from firsthand experience how desperately inner city males need the influence of strong men in their communities.
"There was a time when, if the kids were writing on the wall, two or three dads would come running out and drag them to their dads and say, 'Do you know what these kids are doing?' But today, where are the dads at?"
"Men can take this community back," insists the former gang member. "I have seen it. We have been on a bus before, and here come four or five Crips walking down the street. Now here comes one man, a big dude, about forty years old. The kids start to act crazy at the bus stop. All he has to do is raise his voice and yell at them, and treat them like kids—which is what they are—and they won't do anything! The man would stop them dead in their tracks, because he has presence. He is willing to tell them what they are doing wrong. He doesn't do it out of anger. He does it out of concern, and to show them the right way, because obviously nobody else has bothered. That is what is missing: an affirmative figure, a good role model who is willing to stand up in the streets …”
No, gangs are not the real problem. Gangs are a symptom of the problem, and nothing inflames contempt and violence in these outcasts more than the injustice of being perceived as the real problem.
In society, there are two components that perpetuate this vicious cycle: the obviously wrong (gangs, criminals) and the apparently right (excessively harsh or hypocritically weak authority). The apparently right segment of society fluctuates between being cruel and over-reactive on the one hand, and being too hypocritically kind on the other. Neither approach has any true understanding or love.
Society is treating the obviously wrong people in exactly the same way confusing parents treat their neglected child, never addressing the real problem. But in both family and in society, sanity cannot exist without the presence of true, tough love, the kind of love that is neither cruel nor artificially sweet. Those members of society that are apparently right will always persist, fighting or appeasing the gangs, denying the truth that, in reality, they have created a hypocritical atmosphere in which innocent children become obviously wrong.
It is the hypocritical and unloving apparently right parents, politicians, and other authorities that will continue to unconsciously create victims such as gang members. And those gang members will, in turn, become victimizers and receive all the blame, just for following the example of their available role models. What role models? The absentee or ineffectual father victimizes his child by not being there to guide him. The gang leader exploits angry rebellion against the hypocrisy of families and society.
These two components of society feed on each other, one evolving the other. The hypocritical "good" tries to solve all the problems that it actually created, and the obviously wrong rebels even more against such audacious and phony attempts to deal with a problem that can be solved only by complete honesty and abandonment of hatred on both sides.
When will we realize that our children's troubles are a result of the "sins" of the fathers—and that fathers can change the situation? When will men realize that strength of character, determination, and compassion are not just clichés? They are necessary strengths that we must possess if we are going to raise our children to be neither victims nor victimizers, but to be people of courage and action.
[A special form of emotional self-control is the key to relating properly to yourself and to the world. Your very life depends on your responding in a right way to what is wrong with you, so that it cannot get or remain inside and rip you apart. To put up an invisible, impenetrable force shield of calm patience around you, you must learn to deal properly, without resentment, to pressures of any kind, whether from within or without. The audio exercises on my new credit-card-sized Cure Stress Device audio player show you how to do this and help you practice remaining in the proper state. To get your own Cure Stress Device, CLICK HERE, ]
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Roy Masters who in his 80s continues to broadcast the longest-running counseling show in talk radio history, his internationally syndicated daily radio program Advice Line, grew up in pre-WWII England. He started his journey toward understanding human nature when as a teen he saw a stage hypnotist at a vaudeville show in Brighton. The hypnotist easily put volunteer subjects in a spell and made them do outlandish things, like dancing with a broom and forgetting their own names.
Puzzled by the hypnotist's mysterious power, Roy distinctly remembers pondering the question: "Why can't hypnotism be used to make people act sensibly, rather than foolishly?" Inspired by the idea of harnessing this baffling force for good, he later pursued the art of hypnotism and established a successful hypnotherapy practice.
After several years of practice, Masters made his central and pivotal discovery about the root of people's emotional problems, addictions and complexes. He realized that people did not need hypnosis, because their core problem was that they are already hypnotized not by a clever stage performer, but by the stresses, pressures and seductions of daily life.
He used his knowledge to discover a way to help us become de-hypnotized, and discovered that the root of the power of negative suggestion lay in our wrong emotional response, that of resentment. Masters' remarkably effective exercise, a simple observation technique called Be Still and Know is at the core of his unmatched track record in helping people overcome even the most serious mental-emotional problems, and is the centerpiece of a successful program within the U.S. military community (Patriot Outreach) that is helping thousands of military personnel and their families cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).