Sydney McGill | Bonding with potential gangsters
For nearly two decades, I planned and tried innovative ways of working with boys prone to be violent. While these methods had their strengths and weaknesses, they did the basic job of helping the youths to upgrade their views of themselves and find less destructive, more amicable ways of dealing with conflicts. The lectures, retreats, hikes, river baths and games had a hidden ingredient that made our efforts succeed or fail. It was the intentional bonding of mentors and boys or the lack of it.
Emotional bonding is the lifeblood that keeps the human person emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, alive and well. We come from our mothers as social and relational beings. Without close, healthy male bonds (whether they be fathers, uncles, big brothers or community leaders), we become distrusting and insecure at best, and deviant and violent at worst. While the mother's love bond is vital for the child's general well-being, it is no measuring stick for his burgeoning manhood during the teenage years.
I recently counselled a 15-year-old adolescent male who was accustomed to being bullied throughout primary school and into high school.
He recounted how he wanted to play football in his community, but the leader of the team assigned him to be the goalkeeper. He refused. The young man then berated him on the playing field and called him a 'B' man. The youngster walked away angry and humiliated.
Deep sense of anger
That evening at home he began to court the idea to kill someone with a knife. Moments later, he saw an elderly man walking down the street.
He bolted through his gate andchased the man with a kitchen knife. Fortunately, the man was able to disarm him. "Why did you want to kill the stranger?" I asked.
"I would feelbetter," he replied. "Has he ever treated you badly?" "No sir," he answered.
His only close male bond was with his father, who had died eight months before.
What's love got to do with it?
"We really were made for love; outside of it we die very quickly," Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, bluntly concluded in one of his meditations. The death that Rohr speaks of is all-inclusive: it is an emotional, spiritual, and physical death.
The man deprived of loving relationships from boyhood will aspire to be in a long-term erotic relationship but because he fears real intimacy and the dread of emotional exposure, he resorts to 'maintaining' the relationship with threats and physical abuse. Firstly, a fear-ridden, controlling relationship can easily have a murder-suicidal end when the 'intimate' relationship goes downhill. Secondly, a young man deprived of love can kill or maim an innocent person for no reason whatsoever except that the violent act gives him a warped sense of value and a distorted respectability among his cronies. He dies quickly as Rohr says, and often takes others with him, whether close relations or strangers.
Father hunger is rife among Jamaican youths yet willing, emotionally well, generative men who could stand in the gap as mentors are woefully few.
Jamaican men are preoccupied with making a life for themselves with little time left to tend their own psychological wounds, much less those of others. The Jamaican machismo reeks of excessive sexism, egoism and homophobia (symptoms of anxious parental attachment, evidenced in the dancehall arena). It mitigates against the likelihood of a boy finding a conscious, responsible alpha male to be there for him through emotionally difficult times. Most Jamaican boys must privately nurse their damaged egos alone and publicly deny the pain.
Detached youths are ill at ease, unwittingly waiting for gang membership to satisfy their bonding needs and earn the privilege to own their only means of empowerment: a gun. And so the viscous cycle of intergenerational trauma and violence expands from town to country, proliferating every nook and cranny of the island.
- Dr Sydney McGill is a clinical psychologist.
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