Going from a violent to a non-violent environment

Has anyone ever lived through a violent environment and then moved to a non-violent one? Does your history of violence affect the way you live your life now?

This thread is an attempt to iron out the different ways living through violence can affect a person. I’ll share some of the things I’ve noticed about myself, and hopefully others might tell me if they have similar experiences or if I’m just insane.

I went to an inner city high school and middle school across the street from the projects. Most of the students had ties to gangs or knew someone in a gang. Fights broke out inside school grounds daily. There were special areas of the school where people smoked weed and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to have sex on school grounds.

I avoided getting robbed by never taking anything of value to school, and I gained some protection by letting people cheat off me in class. Unfortunately that did not stop me from being harassed or assaulted several times outside of class and on my way to school.

Now I’m in law school and live on campus. I’ve noticed that some of the students have radically different outlooks on life than I do. Here’s my list:

  1. Eye contact isn’t threating. I used to assume that when someone looked at me that they were looking to start trouble. Now l’ve determined that normal people make eye contact to see if they know you or not, so that they can say high if they do.

  2. Complements are not threating. One way to rob someone one was to get them into a false sense of security by being extra nice to them. After this happens to you once you become suspicious of complements you don’t deserve. Yet I’ve discovered that normal people complement others just to be nice, and not because they want to rob them. Go figure.

  3. People are a lot more boring. In high school people talked about drug deals gone bad, in law school they talk about commutes gone bad. I obviously don’t want to hang out with drug dealers anymore, but that means I have to get used to the uneventful lives of normal people. I have nothing against boring lives. I prefer the boring life I have now to the chaotic you-never-know-when-you-might-get-stabbed life I had before. However, it’s hard getting used to people being so enthusiastic about experiences that I can’t help but find so unremarkable.

  4. There is no need to be aggressive. In high school I had to show everyone that I was tough. That meant that even if someone did something minor like steal my pen, I had threaten to cut his balls off if he didn’t give it back. Otherwise people would notice how I wussed out when someone took my pen and would mark me down as an easy target. Normal people wouldn’t think much over a stolen pen and would let it go. Yet for me a lost conflict meant people saw that I couldn’t defend myself, and would try to hurt me later.

  5. Confrontation is easier. The only positive on my list. Once you figure out that some people will not physically attack you if you say something they don’t like, then it becomes much easier to confront them about anything.

That’s about it (if you don’t count all the wonderful memories I wish I could forget.) I’ve managed to deal with 1, 2, and 4, but I’m finding 3 to be the most difficult. Anyone else have similar experiences?

No comments?

No, I find it interesting. I’m confused though about college. Didn’t you notice these differences then? Also, from pop culture, weren’t you aware that the way you were existing was not considered mainstream? Did you think Rachel was going to throw down with Ross everytime they looked each other in the eye on “Friends?” Also in #5 you say it’s the only positive on the list, but everything other than #3 sounds positive to me.

Speaking of Point 3, law students live extraordinarily boring lives, since there isn’t much time for anything else. You’re not really seeing your comrades at their most interesting. Most of my good law school friends were fairly interesting people, before law school. Or, just look at me:

Self (during law school): wake up, go to law school, come home, read, sleep, repeat.
Self (before law school): was live-in manager of a horse farm.

Well, okay, I’ll say something. I read your OP, and found it interesting (and perhaps ignorance-fighting), but since I (thank God) don’t come from a violent environment, I didn’t think I had much to add.

But in regard to your finding people boring, I wondered whether you were talking about the kind of boredom that comes from something not being exciting enough, or the kind that comes from something not being meaningful enough, or the kind that comes from something not being interesting enough.

That is, if you’re used to a lot of danger and violence, you might be an adrenaline junkie, or have had your sensitivity threshold calibrated differently than other people. This is the kind of “boredom” that some people combat by going skydiving or white-water rafting or some such.

Or it may be that, coming from a “high-stakes” environment, you find the concerns of the people you’re around now trivial and small-minded by comparison—kind of how I imagine someone from Japan right now might react to hearing someone complaining that it was raining and they got wet on their way to work. This is the kind of boredom that some people combat by getting involved in something they feel matters.

Or it may be the kind of boredom where you aren’t sufficiently engaged, intellectually or emotionally—you may find people and their concerns boring if you don’t know enough about them to understand why they’re interesting.

I guess, growing up in a violence-prone home, one of the big lessons I had to learn was that anger =/= violence. Apparently people can get pissed off, and yell, and not end up destroying all the furniture. Or you can be mad at someone and not physically attack them.

And more pertinent, I can get occasionally pissed off, and yell, and objects somehow do not magically smash themselves into little bits… it’s like a choice people can make.

Turns out anger is not inherently and absolutely destructive. Who knew?

Without going into a bunch of war stories and all that David Copperfield crap, I will post about how I went from a violent HS environment to a middle-class college.

Callow youth that I was, I went in assuming that I, with my two count 'em two knife wound scars was entitled to a higher status than the other college kids who had, to my mind, grown up artificially protected from the harsher realities. Basically I thought it made me what all 18 year-old so desperately want to be: interesting.

For their part, they wondered how this loser had faked his way in.

They were completely right about me being full of shit. But the were wrong about me not belonging in college. When I think about how my small town HS complacently allowed a portion of the working-class kids slide into the gears of the cops and the courts, which I’d avoided, and how happier I was in the university library at nights than I’d ever been in pool hals and biker bars, I realized I’d arrived in my true element.

I didn’t really make new friends in college. I just hung out with the people I knew from high school and other kids who shared my violent backgrounds. I assumed that all the college students had backgrounds similar to mine, and were toning things down because they were in college. I didn’t know any of them so I couldn’t tell how wrong I was.

Most of what’s on TV is a fantasy. I can’t really use it as a guide post on how life is really like.

My adjustment to these factors was what I considered a negative. I had to shift my attitude in order to adjust to 1, 2, and 4, and actively control my instincts to protect myself in an environment where there was zero danger.

That is so true.

This is mostly the same thoughts I had, but also: your reaction seems very similar to the difficulties that combat vets report when trying to re-adjust to civilian life, and why so many wind up re-volunteering for combat tours. In Sebastian Junger’s excellent book War, he describes how veterans describe combat, or, more precisely, experiencing combat and surviving, as the greatest rush imaginable, and how many soldiers get progressively more and more crabby and irritable the longer they go without being in action. He also describes how they miss it terribly when they return, and how everything seems trivial and boring. Some dont’ care if they get fired, or can’t understand why spouses and family get so upset about some things.

Echoing what Hello says – I grew up in a mostly peaceful upper-middle class existence my whole life, and I too think that law students are about the most boring fuckers on the face of the planet. It’s not just you.