In my native city of Chicago, it is not unusual to wake up to reports of the number of shootings that occurred the night before. Typically, people share the news with a variety of statements expressing disbelief, sympathy for the family, sadness, and oftentimes, anger. This has become a reality for people living here in the "Chi," and in cities across America.
Many times what is most shocking about the violent crimes being reported is the young age of the offenders. Rather than taking a look at these children as inherently flawed, we instead, should recognize how our lack of awareness and compassion is a part of the problem. It is common knowledge that compassion and empathy are key components of moral development and socialization. Meditation can increase compassion and an awareness of one’s own feelings in relation to the feelings of others.
The practice of Mindfulness Meditation in schools could be a key solution to ending violent crime among school-aged youth. An article in the Atlantic promoting the Meditation in Schools movement features a school in the Bronx that has adopted mindfulness meditation training for its students. The article highlights the link between emotional imbalance and poor life prospects. Many people who choose to join a gang have experienced the loss of their peers and relatives to violence. It’s a safe bet to push their hurt and pain aside, in order to survive. They are emotionally unbalanced, and resort to poor life choices.
This past October, in a widely publicized article, rapper Rhymefest described Chief Keef, who has become synonymous with Chicago violence as being autistic.
“When I look at Chief Keef, I clearly see someone who has autism, look at the way his face is structured, or his insensitivity to violence. He needs an advocate.”
Teachers, armed with meditation training, can be the advocates these children need. If adopted at a young enough age, urban youth will become equipped with a coping mechanism to help them face the pain that many of them have become accustomed to ignoring.
There are many factors that contribute to violent crimes in urban communities. Socioeconomic factors have been widely discussed. What has been less talked about is the emotional factors that contribute to youth violence. Society at large, often views these perpetrators as less than human. We scoff at their “stupidity” and “ignorance." The truth is that I once felt the same. But if we as a society continue to view these children as less than human, we are expressing the same lack of empathy as they are when they terrorize their communities. We become part of the problem instead of the solution.
Instead, we need to look to the root cause of what makes a person resort to violence which is a lack of compassion, a lack of humanity and sense of community. When we look at the root, it becomes obvious that we need a solution that helps school-age kids face the sadness in their lives in a way that forces them to confront, rather than run from it. They need an outlet that allows them to feel and release their emotions, rather than inflicting their inherent pain on their community members.
One Emory University study found that Mindfulness Meditation can help people with a lack of empathy, as well as those who suffer from Autism or Aspergers. Mindfulness teaches that self-centeredness leads to disease while being altruistic creates a benefit to oneself and others. It’s clear that this change in thought process–from thinking about self, to thinking about others, can truly benefit those living in cities where gang culture and violence is prevalent.
More schools should adopt Meditation in an attempt to help their students focus not only on their cognitive intelligence, but also on their emotional IQ’s. Students who were given meditation training in the Bronx had experienced stressful situations early on in their lives. Many of them lost loved ones due to violent circumstances.
In the article, all of them spoke positively about the mindfulness and meditation training their school adopted and the benefits of living in the present moment. Taking a few minutes a day to reflect on oneself and one’s impact on others, can bring about a shift in perspective, leading to a more altruistic lifestyle.
When we are able through meditation to take the time to love ourselves, we stop looking to the world for love and find it within. Through self-love and awareness, there is no longer a need to inflict your emotional pain upon others, as it becomes easier to view yourself in others, and realize that hurting others is hurting oneself.
Elizabeth Aguirre is a technology professional with more than 8 years experience working in the software industry. Currently, Elizabeth is pursuing an M.S. in E-commerce at DePaul University and works as a consultant for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in Chicago. She is on a one-woman mission to empower small business owners through the use of technology. When she is not being a "cool mom" to her daughter Esther, she enjoys working on her personal web page, Reikology.