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Protecting the inner world - preventing violence

Elmar H. Supe

Dr. Elmar Supe (died 2003) was Academic Director at the Institute of Educational Science at the University of Vechta for General Pedagogy and Social Pedagogy. Before that he worked in banks, schools and universities and worked for 18 years in ministries of the government of Lower Saxony as a consultant for addiction and drug issues. For many years it has involved him in the training of addicts’ assistants at the Guttempler-Bildungswerk. He advocated the establishment of municipal prevention councils and “internal environmental protection”.

Take the time to see and enjoy the beautiful things in life.

Prevention is often talked about, but only when it is too late, when addicts or drug addicts burden their environment or when serious crimes, such as xenophobic attacks, are lamented. Then the call for prevention sounds - in Sunday speeches - which is too late.

“Round tables" are then formed, projects planned or actions and demonstrations held. Not only the “too late” but also the specific procedures, e.g. against crime, addiction or drugs, are problematic. Comprehensive health promotion and prevention, which I call indoor environmental protection, are more necessary than actions and specific projects.

Prevention is necessary.

The decisive question is: How do we prevent as possible? Administration and politicians ask: How can we make prevention as cost-effective as possible? So the HOW is the decisive question. Under no circumstances should those responsible bury their heads in the sand.

But not only addiction and the abuse of addictive substances are a challenge to prevention, but also many other phenomena that have a considerable influence on each other: violence e.g. in schools, in families, against foreigners, crime including organised crime, sexual abuse from which the victims suffer throughout their lives, eating disorders such as binge eating and anorexia, dependence on medicines, illegal drugs and gambling, other non-substance-related addictions, suicidal risk, neglect and adolescent cults. It should prevent all these problems in their variously dazzling forms, but often only when something has become visible to the public, e.g. when drugs or violence at school call for action. There is a late reaction, even overreaction.

They often set up round tables at which the same people sit, irrespective of what “dissocial” behaviour, i.e. behaviour that detached from society and its values, should be approached. They look for causes and possibilities to prevent or reduce such negative events. All working groups come to similar results, as both conditional factors and countermeasures for all forms of dissocial behaviour are identical.

Prevention is learning, educating, empowering and encouraging life

The road to addiction prevention runs counter to these principles. Life is something beautiful and positive, it is not addiction. The Portuguese call their prevention “Projecto VIDA”, i.e. “life project”.

Addiction prevention, which is practiced in schools, is often negatively oriented, in addition with its terrible negative consequences. It provides information that is unhelpful, often even arouses curiosity, and is therefore dangerous. The procedure is similar for other symptoms. The negative is emphasized, data and crimes are presented, and a certain knowledge of drugs is imparted.

However, we know that information alone is not preventive. Rather, it is also about feelings, attitudes, attitudes and competencies, about what Adolf Busemann already stated in 1931:

“Every human being needs a minimum of contact with nature, of being alone and company, of joy, respect, trust and success, of property, leisure and silence and of elevation above everyday life and the transient in a rhythmic repetition.

Information and deterrence have no preventive effect

A flood of information, no matter how large, is not enough - even if it is packaged and conveyed in glossy brochures. We have to prevent with different means and methods.

One such new concept is the protection of the inner world. I would like to replace it with addiction and drug prevention and many other specific prevention practices. Internal environmental protection is health promotion and prevention in the sense of the WHO. It is a cause-oriented, holistic, social or systemic and above all positive.

This internal world protection is not oriented towards drugs, addictive substances, violence and data, but towards people, their abilities, skills and talents, and also their difficulties and problems. He wants to strengthen immune forces and convey vitality.

Internal environmental protection is as important as environmental protection

It should be given the same priority as environmental protection! In concrete terms, this means that protecting the internal world, just like environmental protection, must have its own infrastructure, its own resources, institutions and employees, i.e. representatives and those responsible.

Environmental protection has shown us that rethinking has changed attitudes and behaviour that have reduced pollution and environmental degradation. In the same way, changes in attitude and behaviour are possible against indoor pollution and destruction.

This radical rethinking is also necessary here if we in Germany do not want to get American conditions. But this is the way we are going as the police crime statistics and reports - also from schools - show. If we consider that most crimes are not known and are not solved, the development is threatening.

From my workshops on this topic, the participants go home with these thoughts: “I can do a lot! I’m important! I’m not powerless!” They also receive several concrete hints and help from each other, such as strengthening, having time, listening, giving others confidence, making the child feel it is valuable and thinking positively.

However, politicians at all levels must also understand that it is high time to do more for prevention. An enormous amount of money is spent on the treatment of symptoms, e.g. illness, disability, crime, far too little but is invested in prevention. The mismatch is about 99 to 1.

The causes and prevention concepts are interchangeable

Both the causes and the prevention concepts for different symptoms are interchangeable as can easily be seen in comparative studies. It is more effective to combine the specific preventive activities, to make them have a stronger and more effective effect, to plan them for the long term and to carry them out. Bundling preventive measures makes sense because individual activities fade and findings are not translated into measures if there is no longer any current pressure. Then, apart from talking, almost nothing happened.

In addition, the resources for prevention are very modest anyway and often limited in time. Careful, competent, early and continuous prevention is rare and remains piecemeal. In an expert opinion for the Federal Centre for Health Education, the Institute for Therapy Research in Munich describes the situation of prevention in Germany as desolate - and rightly so.

Specific prevention efforts often lead to a clash of competences, which often results in a juxtaposition or even a conflict. The impression is that some leaders and institutions see themselves, their interests, their image, their resources rather than the great common task of prevention.

Let us focus on the meaning of life and values instead of addiction or violence

They also concentrate almost only on their “own” symptom, e.g. addiction or crime, instead of positive alternatives such as finding meaning and value orientation. In this respect, friction surfaces can be reduced and thus employees and resources can be used more when cooperation, coordination and holistic prevention are improved.

What does this mean in concrete terms?

1. Specific prevention is not possible, as prevention as part of education always becomes effective against the destructive.

2. Specific prevention, e.g. drug prevention and specific working groups, can be dispensed with.

3. The specificity of individual prevention strategies is incorporated by institutions and working groups into a holistic approach to health promotion and prevention under the World Health Organisation (WHO). Its aim is to create healthy living environments, develop personal skills and network activities.

4. Working groups are formed in schools, businesses and communities to prevent all forms of dissocial behaviour in a cause-oriented and societal manner.

So when working groups develop and implement concepts that improve structural conditions and personal circumstances, strengthen children and young people, parents, families and teachers, provide orientation with good examples and clear boundaries, make it possible to learn life in relationships and free spaces, which convey a variety of action competences, conflict resolution and crisis management strategies, then this is effective against many kinds of dissocial behaviour, as it is shown everywhere where work is done in this way in practice. In this way, the modest resources and forces available would be pooled. This makes them more effective and more available in the long term - an indispensable prerequisite for professional planning and continuous work. We know from large-scale programmes they rarely reach the base, that they are specific, often for current incidents, and that they end too early.

Empowering people to solve their problems and conflicts

Our teachers are not prepared for the many students, problems and challenges they face in school today and tomorrow. This applies in particular to violence and drugs. Training alone is not enough; it is also inadequate. If you want to overcome helplessness and feelings of powerlessness, lay the foundations already during the training and to implement and continue a program consistently and continuously!

Parents are also under-equipped for their important task. The media report daily on partner conflicts, marital disputes and family tragedies. Abuse, alcohol, drugs, violence and crime often play into one another.

This is due not only to an inadequate life preparation but also to a lack of communication and conflict resolution skills. These tragedies, which occur daily in different facets - children and women suffer as if in martyrdom for a long time - are the decisive motivation for me to work in this field. Citizens - including teachers - are enthusiastic about health promotion and prevention because it can reduce fears and worries, injuries, hardship and death.

The goal is to enable people to solve their problems and conflicts, not to flee into abuse, drugs, alcohol, violence and crime, but to shape their lives in a responsible and positive way.

Funds for symptom treatment compared to prevention are in a 99:1 ratio

Politicians must also recognise that lip service does nothing and that internal security cannot be achieved through stricter laws and an increase in the police force alone. The consequences of saving in the wrong place will soon have to be paid. Effective protection of the interior world has to start in families, kindergartens and schools, also in youth and sports groups because dissocial behaviour arises in the social process and can only be prevented there.

But the core question remains what we ourselves, what each of us can do for an effective protection of the inner world. Seven suggestions:

1. A core concern is to make children, young and adult people strong, because the main cause of dissocial behaviour is always a weakness. The aim is to discover and promote talents, strengthen self-esteem and resilience through self-activity, participation, mediation of success or building a relationship.

2. There are not only negative developments. They are only reported about. If we inspect, put on “positive glasses”, we discover many good things.

The aim is to promote positive developments and to inspire, communicate and encourage success with good examples and exemplary behaviour. Many people, private individuals and representatives of institutions can take part in this.

3. If we want to prevent the demand for addictive substances, we must offer young people in particular attractive alternatives and equivalent, realistic, adventurous and experience-oriented. This is experienced, for example, in friendships, in social, church or political commitment, in joint enterprises in many areas such as sports, games, dance, music, theatre, culture, art, nature, hiking, animals, languages, technology, sciences or foreign countries. This applies to adults, too.

Health promotion must take an overall societal approach. It must not only be a matter for schools, youth welfare services and experts, but is everyone’s task and opportunity.

Openness, credibility and appreciation create a good atmosphere and the basis for an environment in which everyone feels comfortable.

Offering attractive alternatives to the demand for addictive drugs

4. The existing knowledge and good concepts must soon be implemented. For example, the Federal Government’s Violence Commission made proposals in 1990 to prevent violence: no overreaction by the state, strengthening of legal awareness, criminals must not learn from “success”, strengthening the ability of families and schools to educate, reducing fears and failures, strengthening youth work, legal education and family pedagogy, helping instead of punishment, parental and teacher training, reducing the depiction of violence in the media. This also means that all prevention efforts are integrated into overall concepts and everything that has turned out to be unsuitable is dispensed with: One-off actions, ’flash in the pan’, information and projects alone. Deterrence, pessimism and exclusion encourage misguided developments.

5. If an environmental impact assessment has been in place for several years, it is logical that there should also be an internal environmental impact assessment for all important policy decisions which considers the legitimate interests of safety and health, of children, young people, families and the elderly.

Here besides the youth, social and health authorities, the police also have excellent opportunities in a “municipal preventive council” to play an active role at an early stage, instead of resolving crimes and securing criminals in a reactive manner.

At its heart is the question: “How do we treat each other?”

6. We know that in crises, problems and conflicts we should not see only negative things, not only hopelessness.

Rather, they convey a sense of life and positive opportunities that open new perspectives. What is important here is sensitivity, understanding, composure, joy, confidence, but above all a positive attitude of expectation and caring.

7.Last but not least, it is important for adults to avoid making gross mistakes and to set the right priorities. At its core is the question: “How do we treat each other?” Ethics, a system of values, credibility and exemplary behaviour are in demand.

Only clear positions can help. That means no “laisser-faire”, no “right to intoxication”, no “salami tactics” towards release, but a consistent and unmistakable NO to drugs and violence!

Interior world protection also means an unrestricted YES in word and deed to life, to human dignity, appreciation and future and thus to more safety, health and well-being.

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