Updated: Dec 15, 2019
You can only teach what you know. You can only give what you have.
When I was a child, violence was part of life. The “spare the rod, spoil the child” paradigm was thoroughly accepted in my family, my school and my neighborhood. The nuns who taught me believed their discipline saved our souls from the fiery eternity of hell. My neighborhood was lower middle class Irish/Italian. Everyone was suffering with too many kids and not enough money. Alcohol flowed, anger flared, voices bellowed, and you were more likely, as a child, to be greeted with a slap upside the head as a kiss on the cheek.
My grandmother lived next door to us, her hypercritical voice is now a deep rooted part of my psyche. My mother would always say, “If you think-a you gramma is bad, you should-a know my gramma!” I know that my mother was actively trying to change the patterns she was raised with, but I also know, now, that she spoke with the words she learned as a child. Although she was a compassionate and insightful person, she healed many with her wisdom, with her family she unconsciously followed the old patterns that she was taught:
“If you want to be heard, you need to scream the loudest!”
“To live in sacrifice and give “until it hurts” is the way of Christ, the highest ideal.”
My mother’s creed was “Life is a fight-a, fight-a, fight!”
For as long as I can remember, it never made any sense to me. Compassion and empathy were my nature. The Gospels of Jesus always spoke about kindness and equality under God, yet the people who ran His Church were all about hierarchy and control. Hypocrisy ran rampant and was never acknowledged. You could gossip about someone with malicious slander, yet it was expected that you would speak politely to his/her face. There was a lot of talk about honesty, and facing consequences for lies, yet much of what was spoken was deciet.
As I approached adolescence, the sweet compliant behavior I learned through fear transformed into angry rebellion. My empathy gave me deep insight into everyone’s vulnerability, and I had been well schooled in using my tongue as a blade. Under the guise of honesty, I shredded everyone in my path.
I discovered shame was a key point of weakness. For countless generations, to be shamed was to be ostracized. To be outcast from your tribe, church or family would lead to destitution and death. I learned that to be shameless would infuriate my parents more than anything, so it was to shamelessness that I aspired.
My defiance was also aimed at false social mores. It was the 1970’s and we were reinventing the world. The ERA had passed, women and blacks were fighting for equality; youth were fighting the draft and the greed driven destruction of innocence. I believed in the “good fight.” I felt it was our duty to overthrow the outdated systems.
In the midst of all this rebellion, I had a child. I dedicated myself to breaking the rules I was raised with, my daughter would have freedom and voice. Yet, ten years into my marriage, I found I had become complacent and forgiving of behaviors I had considered intolerable. After my own daughter’s rebellion, I needed to re-examine my actions vs. my beliefs- they were not the same.
By my 30’s I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I felt I was the victim of programming instilled by my parents and my ancestry. My behavior was automatic, a series of tapes I played over and over unconsciously.
Through it all, I blamed my mother. When the voice of self-criticism was paralyzing me, I envisioned the voice as my mother's. I built a comfortable room in my mind for her - complete with a library, a big picture window overlooking the sea, a soft inviting armchair with an ottoman, some tasty snacks - put Mom in it and locked the door. It was an exercise I practiced repeatedly everyday. At the time I knew that those debilitating criticisms were generated by most of the influential people in my past, but they were sins that were easily dropped at my mother’s door.
My inner child work helped me to forgive myself as I healed the wounds inflicted on me as a child. This took many years. Contemplation, deep meditation and writing, helped me unravel those tapes, many of which still play, but I am better able to observe them now. I have balanced the inconsistencies and am very aware of my affect on the world around me. I’ve given up my victimization, and in so doing, found forgiveness for the violence imposed on me. I know that the perpetrators were locked into their own tapes.
I have no doubt that I was loved. The worry, fear, shaming and violence were the tools they had for expressing that love. As Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is the root of all evil. When we realize that violence always springs from fear, how can we help but have compassion for those who are so afraid?
To have compassion does not condone the action that creates pain in another, but rather acknowledges the pain from its source. It is that source that we need to heal. The source is societal and countless ages old. We have all been victim to it. Fear springs from the lie of separation; compassion is born of oneness. I am different than you, but the same. I have been victim and assailant. Awareness is the antidote to ignorance. Compassion is the antidote to violence. Forgiveness will change the world.