De Hoorn
20th May, 2005

After hearing from the editor of De Hoorn newspaper in Oudtshoorn that there had been some incidents of vandalism - graffiti on a guesthouse wall and scratches down the side of a new motor car, I was asked to comment:

As far as I understand, vandalism is an act of aggression, a negative way of getting attention from those who perceive themselves to be deprived and are envious of those who have, because they 'have not'! It is usually motivated by deprivation rage. Some of you may be asking, 'what is that' and others, 'why are you just making excuses for this kind of behavior'!?

To answer the first question, 'deprivation rage' is an emotional response, not necessarily a feeling of 'not having had enough' because of financial provision. Interestingly, over this past week, Grant McIlrath and I have been giving, 'Meerkat Magic' presentations to high school and junior school children in Cape Town. While Grant, very capably gives the 'conservation for education' facts about wild meerkats from his many years of experience, I contribute some thoughts and ideas about what we can learn from meerkat behavior for human behavior. At many of the schools, I was asked to speak into, 'bullying', which is not too far off from 'vandalism'. I asked children, 'What is your favorite chocolate?' There were many answers, '…dark orange swiss chocolate, a biscuit bar, a crunchie…'. I asked them, 'What would you do if someone took that chocolate from you?" "..And gave it back or someone ate it?" was the question I was asked back from one child. 'Took it from you and ate it", I replied. "I would 'moor' them was the response, not actually, but that is what I would feel like doing!" I went on to explain:

In normal human development people need many 'emotional biscuit bars'. This is especially so with younger children and babies who do not have the resources to provide themselves with emotional support. By emotional support, I mean love, affection, understanding of a child's needs, etc. A 'failure-to-thrive' condition, often leading to death has been well documented. Babies, who have been hospitalized or abandoned, despite getting all the nourishment they need, fail to grow, thrive or even survive, because they are not being physically held and do not experience enough human touch and emotional loving. When children do not get the emotional quota that should be allocated them, primarily from caretakers like parents and their family, they feel deprived, and on a less conscious level enraged. They also tend to feel 'not good enough'. They question whether there is something wrong with them? Often in our westernized lifestyles and the values we pursue, as well as the economic pressures most parents experience, children and teenagers do not get their full quote of 'emotional' biscuit bars'. The consequence is 'deprivation rage' and a feeling of 'not being good enough'. The resulting behaviors can be bullying, or being the victim, vandalism or other activities that teenagers often engage in to fill the emptiness inside when one has not had one's quote of 'emotional biscuit bars', life-threatening activities like drugging, drinking, and un-safe and frequent sexual activities with many partners.

To answer the second question - am I just making excuses for this behavior? Not at all. Like good parenting, I think correctional services should set good limits with consequences, as well as to make space for understanding the causes of such behavior.

You may ask, how would you do that? Some suggestions? I often use the 'meerkat on guard' as an illustration from the 'wisdom of nature' as to how, if we learn how to take good care of ourselves, provide ourselves with our own 'emotional biscuit bars' we will be less likely to engage in activities that impact negatively on ourselves, hurt others or destroy their property. The meerkat on guard is able to go without food and watch out for predators while those in his team or family forage in safety because he has known how to take care of him or herself. Before gong up on guard, he or she, has already found the biggest scorpion or juciest work to eat and has a full tummy. Thus he or she is able to take care of him/herself he/she is very capable of ultruistically taking respectful and considerate care of others! Children and teenagers in the school groups we spoke to came up with some amazing answers as to what activities they could engage in to feel good about themselves - spend time with friends who understand you and are positive; have more family time; respect others and yourself; be your own boss - not in a way that shuts others out, but where you do the things you really want to do, even if others think it is sissyish or 'not cool'; go hiking, play sport, write poems, play music, get your own pet, etc.!

Even though teenagers and children may come up with these innovative and well thought-out answers, they may hesitate to carry them out. It is difficult to give up the idea that the right people should be providing you with these 'emotional biscuit bars' and as a child or teenager you should not be having to do much of that yourself! 'But', as I asked one child' what would you prefer, jeep hoping that these 'emotional biscuit bars are gong to come from the right place and they never do, or get going with ensuring some of these activities happen in your life?"

If the 'vandals' (I hate using labels!) are teenagers, possibly they could have a 'hang-out' place of their own, with darts, a pool table, etc. They would firstly need to paint the place themselves, thus enriching their own lives with some 'constructive painting' as opposed to graffiti. Having nourished their own lives, and feeling less deprived, they could then go and re-paint the wall of the guest house disturbed by their original unwanted artwork! Thirdly, they could organize a car wash outside 'Pick and Pay'. People paying to have their cars washed by these newly enterprising lads and ladies? could be contributing funds towards the panelbeating and paint spraying of the car that was scratched. The second and third activities would need to be completed before the newly painted 'youth center' was available for use! Some ideas and reflections!

Mandy Young