We are publishing this letter today at our IJCAIP Blog, Arts Crossing Borders.
This year is worthy of a creative reflection on violence. After the toppling of the Egyptian government, there was the Arab Spring, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and the 10-year mark on our approach to the War on Terror. The persistence of political violence in African countries, and the rise and fall of violence rates of our own, paralleling all too closely unemployment rates, reveal that violent acts are not an inevitable, unchangeable part of the human condition.
If we could think creatively enough in advance, that is diplomatically, politically, socially, and culturally, violence as a “solution”—no matter the source—would not be necessary. Students of human creativity do well to suspect that violent impulses are creative ones gone awry, that one would much rather create if one thought oneself capable (in my own experience, fifteen years of working with violent offenders in the criminal justice system has shown me that those who are violent would be the last to divulge that their act is one of desperation, rather than one of choice). The creative instinct in us is so fundamental, that allowing for its constructive expression would probably eliminate more problems than we could know in advance.
The science of violence studies is catching onto this. Since U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop spearheaded a movement to involve the health sector in the field, many important institutions have advocated that we approach violence as a problem in public health, namely an ecological problem that is preventable. Among these institutions were the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization (WHO). Since 2002 especially, when the WHO launched its World Report on Violence and Health, the investigation into violence shifted away from criminology, law, and politics, to public health, preventive medicine, and mental health. In contrast to retribution of individuals after the fact, positive reinforcement, via community programs, mentorship, parenting classes, and even improvements in prenatal care, has proven to be effective in helping populations lead more productive lives.
One can imagine what advances are still possible. Ten years after this landmark report, we are due for another renewal. Perhaps 2012 will be the year when we begin to consider creative collective action as an approach to preventing violence in more constructive ways.
When a culture as a whole encourages and allows for individuals, without exclusion, to participate in building and in creation, then much destructive energy will dissipate on its own. When art and education become the solid basis of a society, humanity and intelligence develop in its constituents, and this naturally restores them to health. Mental health professionals, with their intimate understanding of human drives and desires, can help illumine this fact.
Bandy X. Lee, MD, MDiv
Assistant Clinical Professor
Law and Psychiatry Division
 World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002.