Making Sense of the “Senseless”

Making Sense of the “Senseless”
By Nick Taliaferro
Host, “The Nick Taliaferro Show” 900/AM WURD Radio

In the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray, the City of Baltimore has followed a painfully familiar path. First comes the shock, then the anger; next comes the polarized protesting and then, sadly and counterintuitively, destructive violence and even looting. 

It is at this point that most of the commentators and news-readers mount their lofty perches of judgment in order to draw their intellectual lines in the ethical sand.  While these newstalkers may be able to condescend to understand the frustration of those weary of watching the mounting injustices heaped upon the Black community, and some may even dare to approve of the anger and outrage precipitated by another Black body broken under the color of law, still they simply must decry and denounce the “senseless” violence.

It is the word “senseless” that annoys me, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, that word suggests that the people being observed – Black people, mostly – are acting without reason and beyond comprehension. It would then logically follow that there is no purpose in trying to understand this “senseless” behavior (after all, it makes no sense!), and hence there are only one of two things remaining to do: 1) either gain control over the “senseless” creatures; or 2) you eliminate them.

That’s what you do with those things that both defy understanding and appear to be resistant to reason; you either corral them (like wild horses), or you get rid of them (like unwanted pests). And you’d best believe that there are more than a few folks who feel that way when they look at individuals involved in the kind of violent unrest that we are now seeing in Baltimore – and that we watched all last summer in Ferguson. Either control them, or eliminate them; but do whatever it takes to end the “senseless” violence.

That brings me to my second point. What we are seeing is NOT “senseless”.

World-renown psychiatrist Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy presented research that concluded that this type of violent destructive behavior was not only understandable, but should be anticipated by reasonable and just people! He had a name for the phenomenon; he labeled it “Destructive Entitlement” and asserted that it was the natural response of individuals who had absorbed unfair and unjust treatment in a relationship with others. (Between give and take: A clinical guide to contextual therapy; Boszormenyi-Nagy, I., & Krasner, B. 1986)

According to Boszormenyi-Nagy, those who accrue this Destructive Entitlement are simply trying to “balance the ledger” when they act out of their rage born of injustice and unfair treatment. In short, in the absence of fair treatment (justice) occurring within the relationships that define their living, people who are destructively entitled attempt to create a justice by both discomforting others while simultaneously bringing rewards to themselves.

Let me be clear, this is not a healthy response. It also cannot be construed to be mature, desired behavior – we would all prefer that people respond to injustice by filing grievances and waiting patiently in line until it is their time to be heard. You may even call it brutish – or as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake labeled it “thuggish.”

But you cannot call it senseless.

Martin Luther King once prophetically stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” He neither condoned rioting, nor excused destructive behavior; he simply realized that you can’t cure an illness until you try to understand it.

Opening the mind – and the heart – to try to understand what one would prefer to dismiss is the beginning of understanding; and understanding is the beginning of healing and change. Those burning and yelling and looting are not acting in a vacuum; and in their own inarticulate and counterproductive way they are crying out to be heard, and understood.

Doesn’t that make sense?


This piece is so needed right now because language is power. Many things are created through our words. Our elected leaders should be careful with their words. If they have spoken amiss, they should change their language. Sometimes name-calling can create more of a problem than it solves. We should focus our words on addressing the precipitating problem, which is injustice perpetrated under the color of law; rather than focusing our words on the responsive problem, being unrest.

Peace ought to be restored without judgment. Restoring peace cannot be the end. Our leaders must address the seminal issues, otherwise they become a part of the problem.

Follow Nick Taliaferro on Twitter @NickTShow


Popular Posts