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Why Do Junior High School Students Carry Knives?

There have been a series of violent incidents involving junior high school-age students.

Why do young people so easily commit acts of violence, and why do they increasingly turn to the use of knives (some have even wished they had guns)?

We call the practice which aims to treat a patient's mental anguish through dialogue with a trained professional "psychotherapy." A theory within the field of psychotherapy which I have recently come to find significant and concentrate my studies on offers a good explanation for the riddle of why children turn to violence.

Human psychological faculties are broadly divided into "emotional capacity" (the identification and expression of emotions) and "intellectual capacity" (judgment). The former is nurtured and forms its foundations roughly up until the time a person reaches the age of three; the latter develops after the age of three, as a person selectively takes in information from his or her surroundings.

The development of science has brought with it many benefits. This cannot be denied. However, there is a down side as well. In my personal opinion the development of science has undervalued human beings and human psychology. Of course, scientific knowledge itself is regarded as if it were neutral. But rather I believe that the knowledge that has been gained from the achievements of science has an evil source in shallow human wisdom supported by the ugliness of greed. The collusion of knowledge and greed gives rise to a tendency in society to value only a person's intellectual abilities. One of the many ways by which this evil manifests itself is the lowering of the age at which students are caught up in competitiveness over exams.

Children are urged to develop their intellectual abilities, and the emotions which arise within them are strictly controlled. We teach children that it is good to display emotions that adults can easily understand. But children grow up, having had the very existence of emotions other than these ignored. Anger, sadness, resentment, worry, and so on, are treated as if they should not be. Parents want their children to be happy but they become blind to the fact the information which motivates them is stimulated by the principles of capital.

What becomes of these emotions, which were treated as if they did not exist? When negative emotions--which have been denied their place and not permitted the least visibility--do make their appearance, to what do they turn? What sort of form do they take?

As for their direction, they are turned toward the object which naturally stimulates the denied emotion. This may be against the adults who have ignored the child, adults who fail to understand the child, or at things the child sees as weaker than him- or herself. If there is no recognition of the existence of negative emotions within the child, his (her) weakness and vulnerability threaten him (her), as unbearable feelings of anxiety and fear. This is because he (she) has had no experience of saying, "I can control this feeling," or "I accept this feeling."

How can you defend yourself, when you know how cowardly you are, and to what extent your existence is menaced by fears of even trivial things? You can only protect yourself with the means you have at hand. This is where the children of today face a double tragedy. The first of these is the fact of having been taught that, "Unless I am excellent intellectually, I am worthless."

It is probably the case that most children, by the time that they reach junior high school age, think they are worthless, vulnerable beings. "What should I do to protect myself? I have a weapon. A weakling like me could be threatened at any time. All I can do is strike out now, before someone strikes out at me." Who is it that drives children to this kind of mentality?

It is adults who teach children that "You are good if you are excellent intellectually." Behind this adult belief is the hope that "strengthening the intellect will let us overcome our emotions." What we observe now is the crumbling of that false hope. Now is the time that adults must confront the feelings of isolation, fear, and hopelessness lurking within the hearts of our children. Now is the time for every parent to look into the eyes of his or her child and say, "Son. Daughter. Now I finally understand how isolated you feel. Looking back, this is because you have made so clear the things that I, your parent, have felt myself but have been reluctant to see." There has never been a time where it has been more essential that children experience feeling, "I am not alone when I am afraid. Mother, Father, understands my fear."

[ Source: This article was originally written for "Shinken News" June,1998 issue published by Benesse Corporation ]
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