Ending The Cycle of Violence
Posted on 09 February 2016
When I was five years old I would walk home from kindergarten which was only a couple blocks away (this was the 60s). On several occasions an older girl, who lived nearby, would cross the street when she saw me, knock me down, then start pulling my hair. After complaining a few times my mother took me with her to where this little girl lived. Her house was dirty and falling apart. The mostly dead lawn had rubbish strewn about. The girl’s mother answered the door and didn’t look in much better condition.
My mother spoke with this woman to stop the bullying. I don’t remember what was said. I just remember this horrible feeling that I might knock littler kids down and pull their hair if I lived in the same way this girl did. I felt awful for the other girl. I didn’t want her hurting me, but she was already hurting before she came to me. No punishment was going to help.
This last week some fellow with emotional and mental problems decided to make me the focus of his pain and began to harass me. We started with gentle steps, then had to get firmer and firmer with him to leave me alone. I called on friends to help keep me supported while this was going on. I was uncertain how far he would take things and it was getting scary.
What surprised me was the violent anger some women wanted to direct toward this fellow on my behalf. Their feelings are valid, because many of us have been abused by men poorly educated in social skills and respect. The desire of these women to call a halt to mistreatment should be heard and acted upon. But we all have to slow up and make sure we recognise the humanity of our “enemies” when we start thinking about solutions.
Martin Luther King, Jr is quoted as saying, “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” This is often misattributed to Mohandas Gandhi. When retribution is used as the measure of justice you then have to ask how much retribution is enough? A person can choose to be hurt all their lives. How about all the hurt the perpetrator was exposed to before committing a crime? Those hurts contributed to making this person more likely to act out. Who is held responsible for that?
In Norway the maximum prison sentence for any crime is twenty-one years. After that even people like Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a bombing and mass shooting, are potentially set free. And yet, Norway has one of the lowest prison recidivism rates in the world. That’s because they are more interested in rehabilitating people than retribution.
Enacting damage on an already damaged person is a waste of time. The saying that goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” is equally true when it comes to various forms of criminality. Some villages will breed certain sorts of criminality, and until that village takes responsibility for its culture, more and more criminals will be produced.
I grew up in part in a small town where a girl just hitting double digits was raped and killed by a boy who was part of a small abusive gang. Because he had committed an “adult crime”, it was deemed appropriate to try him as an adult. This made national news because at the time he was the youngest person ever to be tried in the US as an adult.
I was among the girls these boys would shove into lockers and start grabbing at their crotch and breasts. Because they were members of the local winning football team, their actions were overlooked. More than that, they were given all sorts of privileges around town. They were a critical part of the collective ego of that place. So when one of their members was caught out, he wasn’t being punished with such vigor because he deserved it, so much as he had exposed the town to scrutiny. In my opinion the whole town should have been put on trial. If that boy had been raised in Norway, he might have grown up to be a nice kid. He is still responsible for his actions, but so is everyone else.
Right now I see so many people getting fiercely angry at people of or without religion, people who are for or against vaccination, people of differing ethnicities, people of a variety of sexual alignments, etc. People are making enemies of one another and cry out for vengence on those who dare to support a differing view. We absolutely should stand up to the bullies of the world, we should protect human rights, and demand the planet be treated with respect. However, simple punishment isn’t the answer. Somewhere at some point we have to recognise each other’s humanity and offer peace. Make the world a place where it is easy to do the right thing because everyone is fed and everyone has their needs met. How else do we transcend a world where everyone becomes a victim?
Peace and kindess,