Violence and the Quest For Identity

David “Deacon” Jones died today. Unless you followed football in the 1970s, you probably never heard of him. I vaguely remember him and his Los Angeles Rams teammates Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen. As I listened to the news about his death today, the reporter highlighted a statement Jones made during his acceptance speech during his 1980 Hall of Fame induction. Now here was a man who devoted his career to an arguably violent sport, to inflicting pain and suffering on his opponents, in other words, his life was about violence. So when I heard what he said, it really caught me off guard, yet in an instant I knew what he spoke was truth, from his inner knowing. He said in that 1980 speech “Violence in its many forms is an involuntary quest for identity. When our identity is in danger, we feel certain that we have a mandate for war.”

How profound is that? Violence is a quest for identity. And I will add for respect, meaning, and recognition. How many times has my own identity felt threatened to where I have lashed out, maybe not in physical violence but at least with violent words, spewing venom and anger?

Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communications recognizes that at the root of every power struggle are unmet needs; lack of identity can certainly be considered an unmet need. John Burton, exploring basic human needs in his book Deviance, Terrorism and War, says the needs most related to an understanding of destructive social conflicts are those for identity, recognition, security, and personal development.

The Babemba Tribe of South Africa have a ceremony where they sing to a misbehaving child, reminding the child of all the good things they have done. They say When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another. My own song – this is my identity, and when I recognize and am in integrity with who I am, I am secure and have no desire to be violent.

And on a grander scale, look at the Israeli-Palestinian violence – it is about identity, or rather, lack thereof. Sri-Lanka, Chechnya, also wars – the ultimate expression of violence – about the lack of identity.

In recent months, there has been much energy and activity concerning domestic violence. Here in Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings declared that men are the cause of domestic violence, and held a rally for men to put an end to the violence. Do you think these men could be inspired and take action by the words of Deacon Jones? And on June 27, Peacemakers Incorporated, recognizing not only Mayor Rawlings efforts, but honoring the women who are on the front line in the reality of domestic abuse, with a Peace Patron Luncheon.

So thank you Deacon Jones, for your insight into one of the roots of violence toward our fellow human beings. Why it has taken me twenty plus years to hear those words, I know not, but now that I have, I want to honor and recognize your wisdom and insight. Let us not allow those words to fade away, rather, let us immortalize them; better yet, let us take action to ensure our need for identity is never forgotten, lest we perpetuate the violence.

I sometimes forget, but I know who I am – My mission is to inspire, create and serve integrity in myself and others. I hope each and every one of my brothers and sisters will find and remember your identity, and by doing so, eliminate the violence in our beautiful world.