Everywhere I am surrounded by tales of violence by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

 Grace Yia-Hei KaoAs I write this blog, I am nearing the end of my week-long family vacation in Palm Desert. While we’ve had lots of fun splashing around in the pool, everywhere I turn I am bombarded by scenes and memories of violence.

Trayvon MartinVignette #1: We left on Sunday, July 14–the morning after a jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Regardless of what one thinks about the outcome, including the role(s) that race played in the altercation itself or the jury’s deliberations, the fact remains that 17-year old Trayvon Martin died as a result of gun violence (among other factors). That alone is something we should all grieve.

Octavio da Sila Catanhede Jordan

The (beheaded) referee

Vignette #2: I like to catch up on news while on vacation but nearly regretted doing so when I came across

Josenir dos Santos Abreu

The (fatally stabbed) player 

this horrific story that took place in northeastern Brazil during a recent soccer match. On June 30, a 20-year old referee (Otavio Jordao da Silva) expelled 31-year old player Josenir Santos Abreu from a game, the two got into a fist fight, and then the referee pulled a knife and stabbed the player in the chest, who then died on his way to the hospital. Why the ref was carrying a knife in the first place remains unclear.

The story quickly turns more grisly–a mob (comprised of angry players and spectators) stormed the field, stoned the referee to death, quartered his body, decapitated him, and then stuck his severed head on a stake in the middle of the field. I am at a total loss for words about this incident.

Twin Palms Estate

Twin Palms Estate

Vignette #3: This morning, while browsing our hotel’s complimentary coffee table book about what to see, do, and eat in Palm Springs, I was struck by the glamorization of violence I read on one of their glossy pages. I reproduce it below in full:

Frank Sinatra used to hoist a Jack Daniels flag to alert his Palm Springs Movie Colony neighbors–including Al Jolson, Jack Benny, and Cary Grant–that it was cocktail time. At this 1947 midcentury modern house designed by E. Stewart Williams, Sinatra reputedly threw then-wife Ava Gardner’s possessions onto the driveway after she tried to catch him with Lana Turner. Visitors to the house always look for the chip in the sink where Sinatra famously threw a bottle in a rage.

You can see it, too. You can even rent the four-bedroom, seven bath Twin Palms Estate for a fun getaway for $2600 a night (there’s a three-night minimum and a $350 service fee).

Of course, I get that interest in seeing the Twin Palms Estate is tied to celebrity worship and an appreciation for a particular style of architecture more than a love for violence per se, but I am troubled that tales of marital discord and violence presumably “up” the attractiveness quotient of this site.

Vignette #4: Now closer to home, I am sad to report the lure of our culture of violence in my boys, ages 3 and 5, as well. As parents, our “no toy Shark water toyweapons” policy has meant that we’ve never bought them what so many of their peers have to keep cool in the summer–water toy guns. But in preparation for this trip, what we did instead was buy each of them a shark-themed water squirter.

While they have been gleefully playing with their new toys on this trip, that hasn’t not stopped them from eyeing with envy, and asking to “have a turn” with, the water bazookas and  AK47 water guns that other boys at the pool have been daily playing with. Apparently, military-style weaponry, even of the toy variety, is just too tempting for my boys to pass up.

While on vacation and in this intense heat, I’ve no major insights to share about what unites or underlies these four vignettes, save my sadness about the violence surrounding me and my commitment as a pacifist to eschew it in all forms.

Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on two co-edited book projects–one on Asian American Christian Ethics, the other on a theological exploration of women’s lives.


Categories: Activism, Ethics, Military, parenting, Social Justice, Sports, Violence

Tags: , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Thank you for your post, Grace. I’ve been looking at the news recently, trying to be ‘clear-sighted’ about it all, and listening to my husband and son’s comment about local events and people. Like you, what has struck me is how horrifically violent the main news is; that the lust for revenge is everywhere, and how women and children are always victims. Your decision not to let your sons play with guns is a good one, but I know (with a grown-up son) how they long to play with toy guns. (Happily, here in the UK, gun use is comparatively rare, although knife crime is everywhere.)

    I feel oceans of pity for Trayvon’s family, and the two Brazilians, and sad for Ava……

    I hope that your generation and your sons’ generation sees many more women in positions of power, that we can start to bring calm and rationality to situations, to help men SEE that violence only results in revenge attacks, and how it all spirals out of control. Governments and the police/military have a key role to play here too. Meanwhile, until mindfulness is taught in all schools, and we have a 0 tolerance on violence (that would be a first!) I’m not sure how we can diminish the drama and violence of the male (and media) mind…….


    • Annette – thanks so much for your reading my blog and apologies for my delayed response. I’m sure that the gun context is totally different in the UK (since the police themselves aren’t armed as such), but I’m sad to here that the weapon of choice can be deadly as well.


  2. Thanks for this important post Grace. Our culture of violence is devastating for sure. My daughter also has a fascination with guns and other violent weapons. No matter how hard I try to redirect she is contsantly exposed at school, tv, etc. It is terrible.


  3. Good post. I also tried to never let my son have toy guns. Boys use their hands as guns and point their fingers and yell, “Bang!” I’m not saying there was no violence in Old Europe, but there must have been lots less than there is today when our national leaders are mostly old, white, rich men who hire both public and private armies and go to war.


    • I am reminded of your first point quite a bit – that even in the absence of physical objects, boys will turn their fingers into guns and shoot imaginary bullets. And yes, the scale of the violence has definitely increased for all sorts of reasons, one being what technology allows.


  4. This is so sad, at every turn, our culture is encouraging violence, especially for boys and men, and in relation to definitions of masculinity. This is culture, it is not nature. Thanks to you for staying firm in teaching your boys that there is another way. Have you read Societies of Peace edited by Heidi Goettner-Abendroth? She argues that matriarchal societies honor the values of love, care, and generosity that they associate with mothers as the appropriate behavior models for boys and girls, men and women. Would that we as a society could do that too!


    • Carol – thanks so much for your comment and book suggestion? It’s now on my summer reading list! And yes, the link between masculinity and violence really is so sickening!


  5. Thanks for this, Professor Kao. I, too, have been feeling the weight of this pervasive violence. I’ve even been struck by how much violence can be done with words (I know this is different than the literal violence we’re talking about) and social media posts. In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, I’ve had to take some time away from social media, etc. because of the overwhelming negativity of some of the comments, etc. that were floating around — I didn’t know where to begin.


    • Hannah – thanks for your comment and you are right – psychic wounds can be just as heady, or even heavier, than physical ones. I think the relativity anonymity of posting online gives people license (for whatever reason) to say really terrible things. Recently, an amazing woman won the Wimbledon title and what the social media commentary was about was how physically unattractive she purportedly was. Terrible stuff!


  6. I tried to keep weapon toys away from my kids too. One day my son took a crucifix off the wall, pointed it at his sister and began shooting…


    • Laurie – I don’t know whether to laugh, smirk, or feel sad about that incident! I am reminded of something that Arthur Dyck (an ethicist who used to teach at Harvard) once wrote – that even in the absence of private property (n.b., he was referencing medieval debates about the apostolic poverty), people would still “steal” other people’s stuff – namely, their bodily organs if they could. Because I operate within a Christian framework, I am more than willing to believe that human nature is at least partially disordered and that the streak toward violence is innate. But I also believe, along with many others, that it can be harnessed and channelled into something more productive. Thanks again for writing!



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