Newsweek recently reported a rise of girl-on-girl violence nationwide (June 13). The author of the article wrote that this rise was "a sad reminder that children can possess the same brutal instincts as adults." She felt that the core problem was less with our culture than with children inheriting violent behavior.
Reading the article made me curious about the word "instinct." One of its definitions is "a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency." This article is not the first to suggest that violent behavior is instinctual or inherited. But I suggest that as we pray together as a nation and question assumptions that violence is natural or instinctive, brutal instincts can be altered, helping girls and boys to act reasonably - even lovingly - in potentially violent situations.
This viewpoint demands a radically different way of looking at the world, including its children. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, discovered the healing power of adopting a spiritual perspective of children, men, and women. She wrote: "In Science man is the offspring of Spirit. The beautiful, good, and pure constitute his ancestry. His origin is not, like that of mortals, in brute instinct, nor does he pass through material conditions prior to reaching intelligence. Spirit is his primitive and ultimate source of being; God is his Father, and Life is the law of his being" (page 63).
Jesus was the first to publicly claim his inheritance as the Son of God. His spiritual inheritance crowned him with goodness and purity and an understanding of the power of Love, God, to reverse the effects of hate. To aid all of us in our own journey of discovering our inheritance, he gave us the Lord's Prayer, which begins, "Our Father, which art in heaven."
When I was growing up, this spiritually intuitive understanding of our heritage gave me insight to heal conflict and find peace. Girl-on-girl fighting was common in my neighborhood, and I often found myself either fighting my way home or hiding in a bathroom to avoid conflict. I remember crying and praying for some sort of spiritual understanding to end the fights, because I didn't want to hurt others. Many of the girls who tried to fight with me were actually people I liked.
My spiritual instincts told me that all of us were created by divine Love, that this Mother of all created us with tender lovingkindness, and that She loved us eternally. Through the study of Christian Science I had learned the power of understanding the spiritual identity of each of us. Apart from economics, genes, or environment, God has created us equally able to discern our identities in light of the Divine.
By knowing ourselves as God knows us, we discover our precious spiritual nature outlined with grace, not brute force. This Father not only created the universe, He created each of us in His image and likeness - spiritual, holy, and wise. God does not have brutal instincts. As I persistently prayed along these lines, I found new and healthy friendships, and the fights stopped.
One day, however, when I was in my late teens, I was walking across a college campus when a woman grabbed me from behind. There were several men with her, and one of them grabbed my arms while she held my hair and head, hatefully yelling profanities at me.
Without thinking, I turned around and looked her in the eyes. Instinctively I blurted out, "You don't want to do this because God loves you."
For a brief moment, our eyes met, and I could see her hate dissolve. More like sisters than acquaintances, I saw for one long moment that we shared a bond with each other and with a Father-Mother who loves us all equally. In that moment, God's irresistible law of Love erased the brutal instincts.
She immediately let me go. She and her friends turned around and walked off.
Hearing about the rise in girl-on-girl violence challenges us to think more deeply about who we are and how we view our neighbors. Through prayer we can expect to heal even those negative tendencies considered unalterable.
Violence shall no more be heard
in thy land,
wasting nor destruction
within thy borders.