NEWSLETTER SIGNUP

By signing up to our newsletter, you agree to our terms.

Making Sense of the Senseless

As Baltimore burns, there is a whole lot of denunciation. But maybe MLK was right when he said “a riot is the language of the unheard”

Nick Taliaferro is host of “The Nick Taliaferro Show” 900/AM WURD Radio

PicasaScreenSnapz001-1
Taliaferro

In the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray, the City of Baltimore has followed a painfully familiar path. First comes the shock, then the anger; next comes the polarized protesting and then, sadly and counterintuitively, the destructive violence and even looting.

It is at this point that most of the commentators and news-readers mount their lofty perches of judgment in order to draw their intellectual lines in the ethical sand. While these news-talkers may be able to condescendingly understand the frustration of those of us who have grown weary of watching the mounting injustices heaped upon the Black community, they still simply decry and denounce the “senseless” violence.

It is the word “senseless” that annoys me, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, that word suggests that the people being observed—Black people, mostly—are acting without reason and beyond comprehension. It would then logically follow that there is no purpose in trying to understand this “senseless” behavior (after all, it makes no sense!), and hence there are only one of two things remaining to do: 1) gain control over the “senseless” creatures; or 2) eliminate them.

That’s what you do with those things that both defy understanding and appear to be resistant to reason; you either corral them (like wild horses), or you get rid of them (like unwanted pests). And you’d best believe that there are more than a few folks who feel that way when they look at individuals involved in the kind of violent unrest that we are now seeing in Baltimore—and that we watched all last summer in Ferguson. Either control them, or eliminate them; but do whatever it takes to end the “senseless” violence.

That brings me to my second point. What we are seeing is not “senseless”.

World-renown psychiatrist Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy presented research that concluded that this type of violent destructive behavior was not only understandable, but should be anticipated by reasonable and just people. In Between Give and Take: A Clinical Guide to Contextual Therapy, he had a name for the phenomenon; he labeled it “Destructive Entitlement” and asserted that it was the natural response of individuals who had absorbed unfair and unjust treatment in a relationship with others.

According to Boszormenyi-Nagy, those who exhibit this Destructive Entitlement are simply trying to “balance the ledger” when they act out rage born of injustice and unfair treatment. In short, in the absence of fair treatment (justice) occurring within their lives, people who are destructively entitled attempt to create justice by making others uncomfortable while simultaneously bringing rewards to themselves.

Let me be clear: This is not a healthy response. It is also not mature, desired behavior—we would all prefer that people respond to injustice by filing grievances and waiting patiently in line until it is their time to be heard. You may even call it brutish—or as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake labeled it, “thuggish”.

But you cannot call it senseless.

Martin Luther King once prophetically stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” He neither condoned rioting, nor excused destructive behavior; he simply realized that you can’t cure an illness until you try to understand it.

Opening the mind—and the heart—to try to understand what one would prefer to dismiss is the beginning of understanding; and understanding is the beginning of healing and change. Those burning and yelling and looting are not acting in a vacuum; and in their own inarticulate and counterproductive way, they are crying out to be heard, and understood.

Doesn’t that make sense?

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

Recent Tweets
@THEPHILACITIZEN

thephilacitizen @thephilacitizen
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Thank you to @Jeff_A_Friedman for joining our movement! Become a member today and help defeat the "Philly Shrug." https://t.co/rfUVRaa5TW 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
"That this is a revolutionary innovation says something about the state of firearms research in the United States,… https://t.co/8gbC7ZIzg5 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Catch up with Philly B-Corp and sustainable furniture maker @mioculture who are turning work into play—because to p… https://t.co/ca8CZGFBFf 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
We're not a website. We're a movement. We need your help to produce journalism that focuses on civic solutions, tha… https://t.co/LKDcFNczLg 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Join the Citizen on the 30th for a Solutions Open Mic happy Hour where you can share your ideas—or meet with people… https://t.co/YiOPzXdgwB 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
"Yesterday on the floor of Council, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown warned against scapegoating Johnson. She’s… https://t.co/ng66WmQpAf 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
"As I suggested last week, Dubow and Johnson have grossly violated the city’s fiduciary responsibility to its taxpa… https://t.co/2xDup42Ue1 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Affordable What? @Phila3_0's @jongeeting on the whiplash in @PHLCouncil to make housing more affordable...but also… https://t.co/youBi7Jv9L 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
The Citizen, in partnership with @lenfestinst for Journalism & @Penn’s Annenberg School of Communication, invites y… https://t.co/Ar2t0MXUCy 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
CitizenCast is on iTunes! Click the link to listen to all of your favorite episodes today! https://t.co/zwO7dTOtrD 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
How Not To Watch Your Money. Listen to the audio version of today's story in Citizencast. https://t.co/eg4axkFZJd 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Join us on the 30th for a Solutions Open Mic Happy Hour. https://t.co/GVvhnZecvh 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Tune-in to an all-new episode of City Council Cheat Sheet. We listen so you don't have to. https://t.co/IF18IA81Xa 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
The Case of the Missing Millions continues... a troubling reveal about the firm hired to fix this mess (for the low… https://t.co/IxK2Fqm52d 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
We're not a website. We're a movement. We need your help to produce journalism that focuses on civic solutions, tha… https://t.co/5j23lZye94 

LOAD MORE

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story