By Federico Gomez/ Memphis
I could complete this column today with only statistics on domestic violence and unfortunately I would lack the necessary space to express the cruel immensity of this social epidemic plaguing our communities. Also, honestly, I do not think our problem is the lack of information; each year, there are many information and awareness campaigns and various programs aimed at improving this situation, and research is also done from various academic disciplines on the causes, consequences, and social impact that domestic violence has on people and families. Knowing is not our problem. Our problem is the lack of will to change everything we do to contribute actively or passively to the perpetuation of this form of violence, generation after generation. So today, instead of following the data approach, I would like to make a brief reflection on this issue; an issue to which we do not dedicate, from the classroom, the pulpit, or the bench, the attention and urgency it deserves.
To understand the terrible reality of domestic violence (or violence by a family member or intimate partner), it is necessary to consider how we tolerate it socially so well and, inevitably, this implies reflecting on how we learn social rules, or, rather, how we inherit them. Today, as every day, all adults, through their behaviors, will contribute to reinforce in the generations that are now in their childhood and adolescence diverse norms and behaviors. Through our actions, today we will all be educators on many things and, among them, on how to treat other people. And, definitely, today we will teach some lessons about domestic violence, either passively, when we look the other way, when we raise the volume of the radio or television to not hear those screams, when we duck our heads and continue with our routine because it is our business if that man is speaking badly to that woman; or actively, when we insult a woman or despise her intelligence or skills, when we read or use the scriptures in a twisted way, when we vote or support violence of any kind and to those who exercise it and promote it. Today, and tomorrow, and the next day our actions are going to be instruments for the education of those who follow us on this path of life and, today, we are going to teach them, as well as a number of good things, some terrible things.
In our Hispanic communities, in particular, there are diverse behaviors that are considered “customs” and rise to the level of “tradition” and that contribute to reinforce the cycle of domestic violence; a cycle in which we get stuck without really knowing what to do. I am sure you know some of these “customs”, because, like many other people, I grew up in a community where one does not speak badly about one’s family in public, nor do private matter get aired out of the house, nor you talk about what happens inside the house because people like to gossip and anything you say is going to be on everyone’s lips tomorrow. All these ways of thinking and acting are part of the unbreakable pact of silence imposed on us at birth. To break that pact is to betray and those who betray go to the ninth pit of hell. Fear. Fear. Fear.
We live trapped, as well, in networks of violence, fear, confusion. We are born and live hostage in large terrorist camps that we call communities (or neighborhoods, or cities, or countries), trying to survive their violence as best we can, trying to understand the reason for their aggressive and brutal ways of dealing with other people, especially women. Sometimes, we even justify the less violent or aggressive behaviors; we tell ourselves that they are under pressure, that the world has made them like that, that they are softening their ways over the years. Sometimes, to survive, we help them, with our silence, with a silent resignation that leaves the affairs of the world in the hands of a superior being that will help us. We always find some justification for our behavior, and also, inevitably, for theirs. Sometimes we feed the hope that they will realize the evil they are doing and they will change and that will redeem them, and it will bring, thankfully, our redemption too, taking away the guilt and shame that we feel. But we are wrong.
What do we do then?
Freely interpreted, Confucius said that to put the world in order, each person must start by themselves. And, as difficult, painful, and risky as it can be, I believe that this is the key to overcoming the social epidemic that domestic violence represents. We must be aware that we have to speak and act in the presence of acts of aggression and abuse. We must motivate public officials, teachers, leaders of religious organizations, private companies and community organizations to express themselves clearly and work tirelessly to eradicate this human catastrophe. We must teach by example, especially to the youngest ones, how fears can be overcome, how to support those who suffer this type of violence, and how to face those who cause it. We must change our customs and give the next generations the best gift we can give them: communities that are safe for all, that accept the diversity in gender, sexual orientation, religion, and family models and that invest in better forms of social organization, and that care for nature.
Your silence, paraphrasing Audre Lorde, will not save you, nor save us.