Violence Begetting Violence by Carol P. Christ


Why is it that some who experience violence as children repeat the pattern while others imagine a world without violence?  I have been pondering this question in recent weeks. 

Yesterday while visiting a neighborhood grandmother who is recovering from surgery, I witnessed a truly horrifying scene.  The grandmother’s son, who knows I ran for office on the Green Party ticket in the recent elections, stormed onto the terrace, pointed his finger at me, and said with a vengeance, “You should know that everyone is going to be voting for the Golden Dawn from now on.”  The Golden Dawn is the fascist neo-Nazi party that won 18 seats in the Greek Parliament and now claims the loyalty of nearly 10% of the Greek people.  Golden Dawn members and supporters have (allegedly) been involved in hundreds of violent attacks on illegal and legal immigrants since the June elections.  The police have done little so far to stop these attacks, perhaps because many of them support the Golden Dawn

“We can’t go on like this,” my neighbor continued, “we must do something.”  When his sister-in-law and I responded, “Violence is not the answer,” he got just got angrier.  “Children today have no respect for their elders,” he continued.  “We need to go back to the 1950’s when children were disciplined by being hit,” he shouted, swinging his arm towards us to demonstrate.   “Do you know what happened yesterday,” he screamed, “Three boys came into my shop and only one of them ordered a sandwich.  I brought him a glass of water.  One of the other boys insisted that I was required by law to bring him water too.” “I agree with you that many children in this village do not respect others,” his sister-in-law enjoined, “but hitting them will not solve the problem.” 

At this point, the man stretched his left hand out and started to mime hitting it with his other hand.  “Do you know how we learned in school,” he screamed, “the teachers hit us with a stick on our knuckles if we didn’t pay attention.” “That’s right,” the grandmother chimed in, stretching out her hand and nearly striking herself with the other, “that’s how we learned.”  By this time my heart was pounding.  Like the grandmother and her son, I was remembering in my body the violence that had been inflicted on me as a child.  “Don’t you feel sorry for the child that you were?” I interjected feebly.  “Absolutely not,” the grandmother and her son replied in one voice, “we deserved it.”  As the two of them got more and more worked up, the quiet protestations the sister-in-law and I attempted to interject were totally ignored.  Rolling our eyes, we got up from the table where we had been sitting.  The grandmother’s youngest son was hiding in the kitchen. As I left by a side door, I said to him, “How did you grow up in that family and turn out so differently?”  He had no idea.

One of the principles of the Green Party is “nonviolence” or as it is translated into Greek, “no violence.”  The encounter described above redoubled my conviction that we must address and comfort the cowering child within ourselves and our neighbors, if we are to have any hope of changing the world.  Violence against children begetting violence in public and political life is not a “Greek” problem. It underlies politics in almost every country in the world. 

Carol P. Christ, a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement, has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute

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Categories: Abuse of Power, General, Politics, Power relations

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5 replies

  1. Wow. Reading this made my heart pound and made me breathe shallowly. I was not raised in a violent home, but I worked in domestic violence shelters from age 17-21 and it left an indelible imprint. I am a human services professor now and I teach Child Welfare as well as Working with Families (and many other courses). The topic of spanking usually arises in those courses with people passionately asserting that the reason children “are the way they are now…no respect…” is because there’s not enough “discipline” and they need a good old-fashioned spanking. I end up almost feeling panicky at these moments, because the energy of the room becomes so avid and violent and I so desperately disagree. Lately, I diffuse it with levity–I.e. “I have an idea, let’s talk about abortion next!”–as well as having some stock, textbook responses to fall back on about spanking as a tool favored by those families at lower levels of functioning. I also emphasize over and over that we need to make sure that children are learning *adaptive coping responses that will serve them in adulthood*–hitting other people is NOT one of those (or, reading about your experience, I guess many would still disagree on this point also :( I have had the tensest debates with those who insist that spanking is not hitting and can be done “with love” and “without anger” (frankly, MUCH more frightening/disturbing/twisted than hitting in anger!!). I had one student claim, “spanking is an art form.” I felt dizzy. :(

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  2. Thank you, Carol, for sharing your experiences. I so agree with you! My recent paper “Addressing Domestic Violence Through the Lens of a Relational Shift” (for Charlene Spretnak’s Relational Reality class), spoke of the need to teach students how to parent — without spanking or other forms of violence. An ambitious, and highly-likely-to-be-opposed idea, I realize, but one that we need to consider nevertheless. I believe breaking the cycle of that level of domestic violence would contribute to diminishing the more extreme forms, as well as help to nurture more compassionate people who are willing and able to be nonviolent in other areas of their lives as well.
    So mote it be!

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  3. Carol, you know it’s not just in Greece. It’s all over the world! I, too, wonder what a world without people hitting each other (and worse) would be like. On the front page of this morning’s Long Beach Press-Telegram, there’s an above-the-fold article about a military “hero” whose girlfriend apparently killed him. This is lots more than hitting, but I doubt that anyone deserved it. Thanks for this blog.

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  4. I have had this same argument and felt the same frustration and sense of helplessness. I know the few spankings I got as a child only left me feeling shame and I swore to never do that to my children. I never did. I have three kids (13, 16 and 19) all of whom are respectful, caring people and good students. I’ve heard parents say “they won’t behave unless I hit them,” and it seems a weak argument from people who just don’t want to try it a different way. I agree with talkbirth… premeditated hitting as punishment seems worse than being unable to handle one’s own anger and striking out. It’s no different from a God who says “I love you unconditionally” but I’m going to send you to hell. Would love the answer to why some people continue the cycle and other break it. Thank you Carol for your blog.

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  5. Thank you Carol for recounting this sad interaction. It reminds me of some sad interactions with family who swear they “love” me or “know” me better than anyone else.

    The only way I can make sense of human inhumanity and psycopathologies is through yogic analysis. Patanjali, “the mind is the cause of bondage and release”. And even before Jung coined his theories on the unconscious, Indian psychology and philosophy texts and stories went deep into the unconscious as a battle field of opposites (Gita).

    How does this help me understand that even in that family environment there was an exception–and that we all are an exception, if we work very hard at it? You stated it so beautifully in your observation: “The grandmother’s youngest son was hiding in the kitchen. As I left by a side door, I said to him, “How did you grow up in that family and turn out so differently?” He had no idea. Borrowing from Integral Yoga Psychology (Patanjali), we can surmise that the conditioned mind (as instrument of an uncultured unconscious) leads people to self-destructive constructs, which in turn they assert as the only and correct way of loving others, solving problems and preserving their energy levels in a “fight or flight” condition.

    Once these people refuse to recognize that they are self-destruying, they will fiercely and passionately act to impose their views on others–blind to the destruction and upheaval that they inflict on human relations. And they will call it love and loving.

    But, how many of us find it easy to engage in meditative practices which reveal to us our deeper and darker unconscious, and also give us an opportunity to “clean house” and sort the mess into a hopeful, dynamic yet self-possessed and compassionate person? The Buddha worked hard for his famous compassion. A lot of muck has to be faced and resolved before we become the witness you have been to write like this. The analogy of the lotus bloom, stem and roots in muck serves to describe the person at peace with herself that you convey. In spite of the abuses and painful experiences (muck), you diligently had to work things out through a long process (stem) leading to the blossoming lotus (clarity of mind and compassion).

    Lately I have had thoughts about my or our illusions and expectations equating human “evolution,” or progress and the idea that it should equate with a cultured civil society (egalitarianism). I have been reading Focault’s Maddness and Civilization, and bring to mind the interaction that you had with a few people in this family, the Mahabharata war, and the prospects of world destruction today… (different scopes: family as microcosm or study across time macrocosmic views emerging from raging unconscious–individual as well as collective) and I am left with a nagging thought about the levels of energy in this man and the many other fanatics who swear that they know how to fix the world. And I see that energy sometimes in myself… and dread it.

    This brings me to the Gita, and the chapter on Action and Inaction… the message is not to be inactive, or not to do. The message is about a change in attitude about doing. You are offering transformative doing in the pilgrimages to Goddess land in Crete. This message of a different way of doing, or doing with gentle attitude, is inaccessible to your neighbor who wants to “DO something”. I wonder if it is not better to change the world by not doing, doing less… because it is those who are driven to DOO so much who have driven us 24/7 into a temporary insanity or destruction of the gentle Self.
    With gratitude, your student.

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