Roots of Aggression – A Community Health Perspective

By Tia Will

By coincidence our City Council meeting of 3/21, at which an ordinance was passed to give the police more “tools” to deal with “aggressive panhandling” was passed, preceded the Maternal Child Adolescent Health presentation on ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) by one day. While the council’s action focused on one small, but highly visible, readily identifiable portion of our community, the problem of aggressive behavior in our society is much more widespread.

We see this in our lives daily. We see bullying on our playgrounds, aggressive behaviors at sporting events ( one coach was sanctioned for telling his soccer players to “go for her leg” when an opposing player was still recovering from a minor injury), on social media from our top economic class to middle school students, in deliberate sabotage of the projects and careers of others, to overt violence, in our homes, on our streets perpetrated by both civilians ( Las Vegas, Charlottesville, Austin) and by police in the form of excessive force ( Sacramento/Ashville, NC/ Davis). What I feel we have done through our recent council decision is to focus only on the tree immediately before us, the visibly poor in our downtown area, while failing to see the forest all around us.

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html

Today, I would like to focus not on the manifested aggressive behaviors of a single population, but rather upon one root cause, the inability to positively (or at least nondestructively) manage negative emotions. First, aggression is the outward manifestation or expression of negative emotion. That emotion may be anger, frustration, envy, greed or impatience. Our predominant culture teaches different subsets of people, usually segregated by gender, to manage these emotions differently. Aggression in males is traditionally funneled into overt displays such as raised voices, physical displays such as standing taller, attempting to display increased size or musculature, crude language or threats. For females, aggression frequently manifests as gossip, rumor, exclusion and shaming.

So why do some people learn to effectively channel these negative emotions which we all experience into positive actions, while others follow a path of outward aggression? One partial explanation lies in the ACES model of early childhood experience. This model, initially based on a large Kaiser Southern California study involving 17,000 patients, demonstrated the lifetime health consequences, both physical and mental, of adverse events experienced during childhood including parental death, child abuse and neglect, spousal abuse, parental depression, & drug abuse/ alcoholism. Simply put, the larger the number of these experiences, the higher the ACES score. The higher the ACES score, the more likely the patient would experience a number of health problems, both physical and mental extending into adulthood. A major consequence that we are currently seeing in our city is that of unmanaged mental health problems.

Fortunately, we have the ability to detect at risk children and families and intervene. We have identified factors which are protective even when there is an elevated ACE score. One such protective factor is maternal/child bonding which begins in utero, is encouraged by skin to skin and eye contact interactions and breast feeding. These activities can be encouraged and taught in our health care facilities and strengthened through home visitation. These services are available in our community hospitals and by referral to our county health services. Preconception, prenatal and postpartum care are all critical to diagnose and treat women’s conditions and illnesses from obesity, prediabetes, and hypertension on the physical side, to depression,  bipolar disorder, and the much less common schizophrenia on the mental side. Diagnosis and treatment of all are critical to the health of both the developing fetus and the physical and mental well-being of the infant and toddler. Synaptic formation in infancy and early childhood is critical to the individual’s ability to adapt and to their level of resilience as they mature.

It is my belief that as a city, as well as a county, we have an obligation to help our at-risk populations. Undesirable behaviors that we see in community members are frequently the result of mental illness, physical disability, or lack of coping mechanisms beyond the control of the adult individual. Many are a reflection of both parental and societal failure to provide a nurturing environment for the individual as a child.

I would suggest that rather than focusing time and effort on the “stick” of enforcement or punitive measures against a highly visible and well-defined subgroup of our population, we would do far better to help those who are now adults to reintegrate to the best of their ability into our community. One example of such help is our local Pathways to Employment Program, a collaborative city, interfaith, and business program that helps the unhoused population to earn a wage while working to clean and beautify the city.  On a number of occasions, I have stopped to chat with some of these workers on my daily walk. They seem to take pride in the work they are doing and the service they provide.

At the same time, we should be fully utilizing our primary prevention resources to ensure that all children identified as at increased risk, defined as an ACEs score of 1 or higher, have access through voluntary referral to services available to strengthen the family by eliminating/minimizing those of the adverse experiences such as domestic violence, neglect, substance abuse that we can, and minimizing the impact of those which are unavoidable such as the death of a parent.

Neither of these approaches should be seen as a panacea, or even as a solution. Neither is adequate to the scope and depth and complexity of this problem. What I am seeking is not a “cure” but rather harm reduction both for the individuals involved, and for our community as a whole. I am seeking improvement through collaborative approaches and demonstrated best practices, not utopia.

As a community, we have a choice. We can focus narrowly on a highly visible group of our population who we are uncomfortable seeing. Or we can can recognize the broader scope of the problem of outwardly directed aggression, its root causes, & its ubiquitous nature in our community. We can take preventative measures to lessen the individual’s risk of ongoing mental and physical problems in adulthood by taking steps to improve their chances of developing into resilient, well integrated members of our society able to channel their negative emotions into positive, constructive action.


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About The Author

Tia is a graduate of UCDMC and long time resident of Davis who raised her two now adult children here. She is a local obstetrician gynecologist with special interests in preventive medicine and public health and safety. All articles and posts written by Tia are reflective only of her own opinions and are in no way a reflection of the opinions of her partners or her employer.

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54 thoughts on “Roots of Aggression – A Community Health Perspective”

  1. John Hobbs

    “, the problem of aggressive behavior in our society is much more widespread. We see this in our lives daily. We see bullying on our playgrounds,”

    By entitled professionals on this very blog, who would obscure the issue of institutional genocide with their personal pet peeve.

  2. Ken A

    If Tia saw Karate Kid in 1984 (or the remake in 2010) she would be aware that “going for a leg” is not something new.

    Tia did mention that a guy in an expensive car was “aggressive” to her about 20 years ago, and one other guy at the Marketplace that got mad when she was blocking the road.

    I’m wondering if two incidences in 20 years would be considered “widespread” from a “Community Health Perspective”.

    If you ask anyone that shops downtown or takes kids to parks in town you will learn that while there is some “aggressive behavior” from housed individuals it is much more common from the relatively small number of “unhoused” individuals.

     

    1. David Greenwald

      As someone who has worked downtown six days a week for the last six years, I’ve rarely encountered aggressive behavior.  I know it happens but I think it’s relatively rare

      1. Ken A

        I know that aggressive behavior in town is rare, that is why I live here, but my point was that the average person with a home in town is “aggressive” less often than the average homeless person in town (a guy that lives next to the railroad tracks who smokes crystal meth at the park  is more likely to yell at you than the Mom who lives in West Davis and is taking her daughter to soccer practice at the park).

        1. Keith O

          I’ve lived in Davis for 17 years and have never been accosted by a white man in a suit but I have been aggressively confronted for a handout and when I said no the homeless person got mad and said some choice words.    I’ve also had several instances where a homeless person would loudly swear at people walking by sometimes with children present.

        2. Tia Will Post author

          Ken

          my point was that the average person with a home in town is “aggressive” less often than the average homeless person in town (a guy that lives next to the railroad tracks who smokes crystal meth at the park  is more likely to yell at you than the Mom who lives in West Davis”

          I actually do not know that either your assertion or your anecdotal example is accurate. I live 1/2 block from the railroad tracks and frequently take that route to downtown. I have never been either verbally or physically accosted by any of the homeless who inhabit this area intermittently, although I have called the police when I observed them starting fires or engaging in other dangerous activities ( needle abandonment ). I have however, been shouted at, and called names on occasions by those lovely soccer moms who do not see why I object to their driving their cars onto greenbelt so their children do not have to carry their equipment so far, or for inadvertently blocking their vision of a game. I do not see aggression as more common amongst the visibly poor than amongst my peers. Data would be more useful than supposition or anecdotes from either of us.

        3. Ken A

          I’m betting that it Tia and David ask 50 people in town to rank the aggressive behavior they have observed in town by type of individual from most to least using:

          White men in suits

          Well educated white women

          College Students

          Elected officials (Hi Sue)

          The Homeless

          They will probably be surprised that White men in suits and Well educated white women are not running wild in town screaming at people blocking parking lots all that often.

          P.S. To Tia you are trespassing if you walk along the railroad tracks to get downtown:

          https://www.up.com/aboutup/community/safety/upcares/pedestrian/index.htm

    2. Tia Will Post author

      Ken

      Is it possible that you did not read the paragraph in which I listed a number of types of aggression we see commonly in our society such as social media bullying ( which has resulted in a number of suicides), fights ( Ket Mo Ree as the most dramatic here in town, but profiled in adjacent communities in a number of Vanguard articles), domestic violence, Picnic Day scuffles, the recent uses of excessive force in Sacramento…

      The fact that aggressive behavior in downtown Davis is unusual ( as David noted), but not unusual in our society is an argument for, not against, a broader societal approach rather than a narrowly focused ordinance

    3. Tia Will Post author

      Ken A

      “going for a leg”

      The fact that something is not new is no reason to condone or ignore it. We are an intensely competitive society which has both its positive and negative aspects. There is a fine line between competing for constant improvement, and cheating or disabling an opponent in order to “win”. Should we give a “mulligan” to the Tanya Hardings of the world? Or should we admit that aggression is the dark side of competition and work to channel these negative manifestations into more productive paths?

  3. Tia Will Post author

    John

    Not sure what led to the description “entitled”. Entitled to what? But I’m much  more baffled by your use of the word “institutional genocide”. Finally, “personal pet peeve”?  The ACEs study is large, well documented and is an example of an integrated, evidence based approach to a very common source of illness applicable to all groups of people. Also, not sure how an article, including the full reference, equals my “pet peeve” in your mind. Can you clarify?

    1. John Hobbs

      “Can you clarify?”

      I did, in the “NLG critical of Sacramento police” thread that you hijacked, but someone keeps censoring my posts.

      [moderator: when you directly attack another Vanguard participant, your post will be removed. Discussion of moderation practices will also be removed. I again urge you to read and adhere to the Vanguard comment policy. — Don]

      1. Alan Miller

        How does one hijack a thread on which no one else posted?  That’s like hijacking an empty plane and demanding all the passengers go to Cuba.

  4. Howard P

    Ahhh… there are those who are “aggressive”, in word and/or deed, and those who are “passive-aggressive” in word and/or deed…

    The former are relatively easy to deal with, via avoidance or direct confrontation… the latter are much harder to deal with… hard to avoid them, and they always have an answer to try to twist any confrontation to make it look like the confronter is the bully.

    1. John Hobbs

      “, and they always have an answer to try to twist any confrontation to make it look like the confronter is the bully.”

      je suis d’accord!

    2. Tia Will Post author

      Howard

      Agree with your post as written. However, I also believe that most of us will agree on what is overt aggression ( shouted threats, hostile gestures, physical attack) whereas there will be much disagreement over what constitutes a “passive-aggressive” comment or act. It is frequently the case that one is able to “identify” passive- aggressive comments coming from someone they disagree with while staunchly denying any such intent from self or a perceived ally.

      1. Howard P

        Agree with your post as written. However, …

        Message melange? [don’t know how to do accents… accent aigu over first and second ‘e’s” in melange…]

        You may be technically correct as to who does… yet Alan is correct… sentient folk can recognize it, no matter the source.

        Consider this a direct confrontation… nothing passive about it… calling your assertion.

        As I said, easy to avoid/confront an aggressive person… not so much a PA person. ‘ the yes, but’ response is classic…

  5. John Hobbs

    “Please forward your censored posts to me:”

    I don’t save my posts, so they are gone. The gist was that I felt it very wrong to use that article as a vehicle to promote your views on the panhandling ordinance, effectively hijacking the thread and discounting the NLG’s premise.

    1. Tia Will Post author

      John

      Noted.

      Am wondering if you saw my comments as “derailing” as I see the following on today’s article by me.

      “By entitled professionals on this very blog, who would obscure the issue of institutional genocide with their personal pet peeve.”
      Which would bring us full circle to Howard’s comment on “passive aggressive” behavior from either one or both of us.

      1. Howard P

        Don’t flatter yourself, Tia… my comment was generic… no direct target, certainly not you nor John, in today’s thread… by coincidence I was composing as you two were posting… no correlation.

        1. Tia Will Post author

          Howard

          Don’t flatter yourself, Tia”

          Oh goodness, how in the world would you see it as self flattering to recognize a behavior in oneself and admit to being “passive-aggressive” at times.  Could your post be yet another example? I only recognized your comment’s validity. Never did I state your intention was to direct it to John or me.

        2. Howard P

          Never did I state your intention was to direct it to John or me.

          Which would bring us full circle to Howard’s comment on “passive aggressive” behavior from either one or both of us.

          Yes.
           

  6. Tia Will Post author

    David

    I have been accosted by white men in suits and well educated white women too.”


    This is true. In the six years that we have been working together, I have become irritated enough to raise my voice ( lovingly of course) at David on several occasions . Smile. 

     

  7. Tia Will Post author

    Ken

    P.S. To Tia you are trespassing if you walk along the railroad tracks to get downtown

    Yes, I know.  I am fully willing to accept any consequences of my trespassing.

    And thank you for providing another illustration of my point. On several occasions when I have been so trespassing and have encountered railroad workers/ and or police along the way, what do you suppose the outcome has been?  Friendly smiles, inquiry as to how my day is going and on one occasion a brief chat about the weather. I live in a world of white, clean, senior, female friendliness. Do you honestly believe that an unkempt member of our visibly poor population would be treated the same way while trespassing?

     

    1. Alan Miller

      Do you honestly believe that an unkempt member of our visibly poor population would be treated the same way while trespassing?

      I’ve also never seen you pile up heaps of bicycle parts, pile up mounds of found objects from dumpsters and the SPCA, graffiti the back of the building and railroad signal boxes, set fires, leave poop, leave an aggressive dog un-tethered, drink to excess in public, or yell at passerby’s in this area while “trespassing”.  Might be part of the reason why you get a smile and the weather.

      1. Howard P

        Yep… there are ‘reasons’ for all prejudices… they may not be valid [often, not], but there are experiencial reasons why prejudices are present.

        1. Tia Will Post author

          Alan

          I don’t see the expanding of treatment of mental health issues and dealing with the results of not doing so — and other causes of behaviors addressed in the ordinances — as mutually exclusive.”

          I don’t either. But I am adamant that if we are going to enforce an ordinance, it should apply to all or none. Not just individuals or groups we don’t like to see.

          On the issue of the various behaviors that you listed that you have not seen me do, two thoughts: 1. For a single one of those behaviors ( I leave you to guess which) you have not been watching closely enough. 2. Not all members of our visibly poor community members engage in any or all of those behaviors either. And yet, I believe that all are likely to be more closely scrutinized than I will be.

           

        2. Alan Miller

          I am adamant that if we are going to enforce an ordinance, it should apply to all or none.

          Of course

          On the issue of the various behaviors that you listed that you have not seen me do . . . for a single one of those behaviors ( I leave you to guess which) you have not been watching closely enough.

          You poop by the railroad tracks?

          Not all members of our visibly poor community members engage in any or all of those behaviors either.

          Of course, but every behavior I listed I have observed repeatedly in the area described.

          I believe that all are likely to be more closely scrutinized than I will be.

          True

      2. Tia Will Post author

        Howard

         there are experiential reasons why prejudices are present.”

        Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. Sometimes it is nothing but taught hatred as in the recent viral video of two “Christian” women defacing and stealing from a mosque with their young children in tow teaching the children that Muslims are Satan worshiping racists.  I am pretty sure this is not on the basis of having witnessed any actual Satan worshipping Muslim rapists in action.

         

        1. Howard P

           two “Christian” women defacing and stealing from a mosque with their young children in tow teaching the children that Muslims are Satan worshiping racists.  I am pretty sure this is not on the basis of having witnessed any actual Satan worshipping Muslim rapists in action.

          Couldn’t find any clue of this in a search… which was it?  racists or rapists? both?

          Sounds like a MH issue… I’m questioning is the “incident” is even real… never heard of even a shallow “Christian” thinking Islam includes worship of Satan… confusing racist with rapist?  Sounds like something an agent-provocateur would post… faux news?

          Can you cite your source?

        2. Howard P

          Found one cite… was this your “source”?   https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/facebook-videos-mosque-vandalism-women-children_us_5aa9a121e4b0600b82ffe195

      3. Tia Will Post author

        Alan

        Might be part of the reason why you get a smile and the weather.”

        I thought a little more about your statement. I believe that you are correct, but that doesn’t make it right. If I am breaking a law, should I really get different treatment than another law breaker doing exactly the same thing because a police officer likes the way I look and act better than the other person. That seems to me to be throwing out equality under the law and as such, unacceptable.

        Should I get preferential treatment because I am clean, because I am articulate and friendly, because I am housed, because I am wealthy?  Seems downright unconstitutional to me.

        1. Ken A

          I’m betting that if Tia (a clean, articulate and friendly white woman) piles up heaps of bicycle parts, mounds of found objects from dumpsters, sets a fire, and poops on the lawn of city hall she will quickly learn that being white does not guarantee “preferential treatment” (it is actually the opposite if a rich white contractor pulls up to the railroad tracks or a city park in his F350 and dumps trash he is MUCH more likely to be prosecuted than a poor homeless person of any race even if they dump MORE trash in the same spot)…

        2. Alan Miller

          it is actually the opposite if a rich white contractor pulls up to the railroad tracks or a city park in his F350 and dumps trash he is MUCH more likely to be prosecuted than a poor homeless person of any race even if they dump MORE trash in the same spot

          This is VERY true.   A police officer told me the reason they often don’t cite HLPHOS people is because they have nothing to lose . . . so they just go through the system, cost the taxpayers money, and end up right back where they came from . . . if a housed / jobbed person went through that it would majorly disrupt their life . . . as it should if they are guilty . . . so in these instances those that are treated preferentially are the HLPHOS people.

  8. Alan Miller

    Looked at the ACE model briefly.  Seems like a good concept, on a more human level parents would do well to teach their kids that misfit kids are often are the results of situations beyond their control, and to practice compassion, not always easy in the social hell world that children create, especially in groups.

    Not a panacea, but a part of the puzzle and a small piece of an ongoing solution.

    I don’t see the expanding of treatment of mental health issues and dealing with the results of not doing so — and other causes of behaviors addressed in the ordinances — as mutually exclusive.

  9. Tia Will Post author

    Can you cite your source?”

    Not with precision since it came across my Twitter feed a couple of days ago. But the video is accessible on multiple sites by Googling “women defacing Mosque”. They reportedly have been charged which added to the tape makes it seem unlikely to be faked. Not sure it would be doubted after the Westboro Baptist Church foul activities or even the woman who defaced the Davis mosque not so long ago.

        1. Howard P

          Thank you, Don… I saw and posted the Huff Post version… yet someone here identifies them as “Christian”… and links them to behaviors of the Westboro Baptist Church.

          Whatever… their ‘Patriot’ group has disavowed these behaviors… they are so slimy, that no “Christian” I know would support them or Westboro Baptist.  Enough off-topic, at least for me…

      1. Tia Will Post author

        “Tweets trump all other forms of truth/information…”

        My use of Twitter is not to believe what it says. It is as a quick glance at what I might want to read more about from a variety of sources to gain perspective on an issue.

        I have written a number of articles for the Vanguard. For the one’s that are not clearly labelled as opinion, I have always included my sources unless in my area of expertise since I doubt many of you will read ob/gyn primary sources to check my accuracy. I was the one who listened to every minute of the Daleiden tapes in order to debunk his false portrayal of the activities of Planned Parenthood.

        Do you really think that I blindly believe everything I see on Twitter or any other source for that matter? I even double check “facts” presented in peer reviewed articles.

  10. Tia Will Post author

    yet someone here identifies them as “Christian”… and links them to behaviors of the Westboro Baptist Church.”

    No one here “linked” them to the Westboro Baptist Church behaviors. I was calling out the similarities of defaming those of other religions. Do you disagree that the two groups hold this in common ?

    1. Howard P

      No one here “linked” them to the Westboro Baptist Church behaviors. I was calling out the similarities…

      Q.E.D.

      Perhaps the word “likened” would have technically been more correct.

  11. Tia Will Post author

    And speaking of “passive aggressive”:

    “Don’t flatter yourself”- in response to a comment in which I was accepting responsibility.

    “Tweets trump all other forms of truth/information” – you do realize that I was honest enough to state where I first saw it when I could have pretended that I found it on one of many links.

    Or how about – “By entitled professionals on this very blog, who would obscure the issue of institutional genocide with their personal pet peeve.”

    I find it both ironic and amusing that these were posted on an article in which I presented factual information in the form of a link as reinforcement of opinion regarding one root of aggression in our society and a possible means to address it,  and that the vast majority of comments were in themselves either hostile or passive aggressive, while only a couple actually addressed the issue being raised.

  12. Tia Will Post author

    so they just go through the system, cost the taxpayers money, and end up right back where they came from”

    Precisely. This is the societal failure part. We know that in their current state of functioning, this will be the result, and yet return them to the street without sufficient aide to help them break the cycle. And some of us feel justified in doing so because after all just look how they “choose” to act. Never mind that some have mental or other illnesses that preclude their ability to behave otherwise.

    As for whether or not I poop by the tracks ? Wrong. You are “entitled” to two more guesses.

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