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How Can We Be Less Aggressive In Our Interactions?
“Can we just get along?” -Rodney King, May 1st 1992 
By: Dr. Ashraf Girgis   N.D


This article was published at in March of 2015 and is also in my book A Holistic Approach to Stress Management.

Here is an updated version. These days, it is not easy to get away from the stress and anxiety around us. Not just what’s going on in our everyday personal lives, but also the issues going on in our societies. From mess shootings to terrorism and wars. We noticed, every time we turn our TV on and watch the news. On its own, the issue of terrorism and gun violence is extremely troubling.

As anyone can attest, the war on terrorism that started after 9/11 has only increasedand expanded both terrorism and extremism. This has merited many sessions by politicians, and many books by psychologists and sociologists in order to find the right approach to deal with it. Those lucky enough to escape the violence are finding refuge in the West. But while they themselves are victims of wars and terrorism, they are being treated with suspicion and sometimes are discriminated against. The danger of white supremacist terrorism has now added to the ugliness.

This brings me to the topic at hand: how to live in such a society peacefully, notsuccumb to the anxiety of losing loved ones, and continue to have love and compassion for all races and religions.



What is also concerning is how certain politicians are competing to implement drastic and aggressive policies toward other countries, instead of looking for peaceful approaches in resolving issues. Their irresponsible rhetoric is creating an environment of divisiveness and unease for many law-abiding citizens such as Muslims, Jews, Sikhs,Hindus, and other minorities and immigrants. Suddenly, some individuals are placed under the microscope NOT for their accomplishments but for their religion, race, or origin.

All these issues add to our daily stress, and leave us asking the same question Rodney King asked more than two decades ago, after being beaten very badly: “Can we just get along?”

  How can we stop this undesirable intolerance and aggression toward others whom we see as different? What causes the aggressive behavior? Is it in our genes? How can welearn to overcome aggression and resolve issues in a peaceful manner? Let’s take a look at the roots of aggression.

  What is aggression?

According to psychologists, aggression refers to any behavior that can cause pain or harm. The part of the brain responsible for aggression is called the amygdala. The amygdala responds to our perceptions of fear and stressful situations, prompting us to respond in an aggressive manner.  Are we born to be aggressive? In other words, is aggression in our genes? Some believe that genes do have a role to play in certain situations (Caspian d his colleagues, 2002). Also, in the Middle Ages some philosophers (Thomas Hobbes 1588–1679) believed that humans are naturally evil. In contrast, other philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) believed that humans are naturally gentle creatures, but have learned aggression from society. Evolutionary principalists suggest that nature has provided us with the skill of being aggressive whenever we feel threatened (Buss & Duntley, 2006). Our survival skills protect us from what we perceive as predators, just as it was for our cavemen ancestors. 




While we are less aggressive toward our own species, we are more aggressive toward those who seem different from us. Science has also shown that hormone levels, specifically testosterone, have a connection to the level of our aggressive behavior. A study conducted between two universities, 12 fraternities, and 240 men discovered that higher levels of testosterone produced more wild, rambunctious students (Dabbs, Hargrove, & Heusel, 1996). Another study, conducted among juvenile prisoners, indicated similar results: the higher the testosterone levels, the more violent and aggressive the behavior (Banks & Dabbs,1996). It is worth noting that although testosterone levels in women are lower than those in men, similar results have been found in women. 

Studies suggest that serotonin hormone also plays significant role in lowering and inhibiting levels of aggression (Banks, T., & Dabbs, J. M., Jr. 1996). Low levels of serotonin have been found to predict future aggression (Kruesi, Hibbs, Zahn, & Keysor, 1992). Can we stop aggression and get along with others? Sometimes, I wish someone had a magic wand and could sprinkle love all over the world, restoring peace and calm. I wish we could finally stop fighting wars and spreading hate in the 21st century.  However, in the absence of this wishful thinking,what can we do as individuals to change aggressive behavior toward others? Here are a few suggestions:


1.   Mindfulness, Meditation, and Prayer

As mentioned above, we know that the amygdala is the part of the brain in control of our emotions. When we feel threatened, scared, stressed, or bullied, our amygdala responds by releasing hormones that lead us to act aggressively. This is the same part of the brain responsible for stress, or the “fight or flight” response. We are also aware that the frontal lobe of our brain has the ability to control the amygdala, and therefore has the ability to control our emotional response. For example, researchers have found out that the cerebral cortex is less active in prisoners on death row or violent inmates, leading them to suggest that violent aggression and crimes may be caused at least partly by a failure or inability to regulate emotions (Davidson,Jackson, & Kalin, 2000; Davidson, Putnam, & Larson, 2000).Therefore, we can increasethe activity in our frontal lobes by meditation, mindfulness (being present in the here & now, using all of our senses), or using sentences from our daily  prayer(repeating of asentence or phrase that has religious significance for us). Science has proven mediation increases the activity of our frontal lobe, which in turn can curtail a burst of aggressive behavior.

In other words, as humans our brain is wired to have the ability to control our emotions and use logic and sound judgment. This evolutionary capability sets us apart from animals.


Men Talking to Each Other    




2.     Reaching Out to Others

We have the tendency to be suspicious of those who are different from us. Unfortunately, these days the media is also so poisonous. For example, it played a significant role in making the word Muslim almost synonymous with terrorism. By reaching out and getting to know one another, we can eliminate the feeling of “us” vs.“them”. I suggest to my Muslim readers please visit a church or a temple or a Synagogue and other religious organization, and get to know the community you live in.The same goes for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and those not practicing a religion--visit a mosque during Friday prayers and get to know Muslims in your community. As someone who has been many places in the world, learned to speak a few languages, and gotten to know different cultures and religions, I can tell you that there is no religion that would teach violence and killing. Only distorted versions of these beliefs are capable of twisting a peaceful religion into a group that uses violence to advance certain agenda.

 From my travels, I have also learned how similar we all are. We all want a secure job, a roof over our head, insurance to pay for our health bills, and a safe and secure society. Let’s make changes together as ONE United States of America, instead of focusing on our differences and blaming each other for joblessness, homelessness, lack of clean water, etc.

Let’s not allow individuals to take our frustration and use it in todividing and a force to propel themselves forward. Keep practicing mindfulness, meditation, and prayer, and keep reaching out to others in  order to better our world.  There is a love and kindness meditation (compassion meditation) that I use in my talks. I would like you to repeat these words every day when you wake up, if you are in line at a grocery store/train station, etc.

 In a study conducted in 2008, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied individuals practicing compassion meditation, and found that it altered their brain function in positive ways. It also improved mood and reduced anger and stress.



Another study conducted by Stanford scientists used compassion meditation for 12 weeks among veterans. They noticed lower levelsof PTSD ( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). In addition, there was a reduction in levels of depression and anger. 

In another study at Duke University, the scientists concluded that practicing compassion or love and kindness meditation for 8 weeks can reduce back pain and feelings of helplessness in patients with lower back pain. These words will help you to feel more connected with others. You can change thesephrases or add your own. Make sure to address this toward yourself first. After repeating it a few times, say it again for the person next to you, or a stranger you see at the metro station. At the end, repeat these words for someone you are angry at. 

 May I be healthy, free of pain.
May I be happy with joy in my heart.
May I be in love with all in this planet.
May I be peaceful and free of anger toward myself and others.
May I find joy and peace within, and radiate these to all around me.



Even if you have not travelled around the world and you do not know many cultures, by going to different news sites on internet or tweeter and translating them to your own languages, you will realize how similar we all are. 

In the 21st century, isn’t it time to say goodbye to aggression and violence of our ancestors the cavemen? Isn’t it time to know each other and realize we are all thesame? Isn’t it time to not fear simply because of our differences? Isn’t differences? Isn’t it time to ask, as Rodney King once did, “Can we just get along?


Thanks for visiting For questions, please call our office at (616)-777-0608 and leave a message.Wish you the best in managing your stress.  If you want to learn more about how meditate and the science behind it, feel free to sign up for Dr. Girgis’s seminars on our website..  Feel free to follow us on twitter for our latest postings.

 Ashraf Girgis N.D.


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