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Gathering in Topeka, Kansas for the Educators’ Art of Facilitation Chapter III


I never believed that a man who abuses anyone physically, emotionally or verbally is simply a monster.That's too simple.There is a reason why men do what they do, and don't do and in order to help men and women to not be hurtful to themselves or others we must as I said in my last post ”help them heal.”

We must advocate for a world in which we don't punish, we transform.

I have always believed this on many issues, from domestic violence to drug addiction to other acts of criminality. We have, over generations, accomplished nothing by imprisoning (mostly men) rather than getting to the root of why they abuse. Sure, certain circumstances of violence warrant jail time, but the idea that we have 2.5M people jailed for crimes tells me that jail alone isn't convincing men to not act violently toward women. I know all those men in jail are not just abusers, but so many of them are and will continue to be abusers when they get out because nothing has been done to help them understand the real reasons behind their behavior. What I have come to understand in my own life is that there is very strong correlation between fear and violence that leads to abuse. In fact I would venture to say that fear is the reason for so many other ills in our society: racism, sexism, etc. I have never believed that someone raised without violence suddenly becomes an abuser out of nowhere. All the men and woman I have known in my life, including myself, were raised with some form of violence in the home. I can only tell you based on my experience that it is unimaginable how much fear that creates in a young boy who ultimately grows up and is still afraid of relationships, women, abandonment, love, kindness, respect, etc.The list goes on and on because those feelings are so deep and powerful and destructive.

One of the things we explored and learned about at the Family Peace Initiative in Topeka is what Steve and Dorthy have named “The River Of Cruelty.” Their work was inspired by the work of Alice Miller author of The Drama of the Gifted Child:The Search for the True Self. They believe as I do that cruelty abounds in our world and that although it seems senseless it is not sense-less, it does not just happen out of the blue. Cruelty as Steve and Dorothy have written, “flows like a river from one person to another. Almost all people who have used cruelty share one particular quality in common: They experienced cruelty long before they ever became cruel themselves. The experience of cruelty appears to be a pre-requisite for cruel behaviors, but doesn’t excuse them. If we are being cruel, it is our responsibility to change our ways.”

I couldn’t agree more as well as deeply believe that in order to change our ways, in order to become accountable for any hurtful actions that we bring into the world we must take it upon ourselves to be the protagonist in our own lives. That’s what it’s all about.

Whether we are working with children, abusive individuals, addicts etc., just telling them what they are doing wrong won't get the job done. Coming into relationship with them and helping them to see how they can be the heroes of their own lives, and the lives they live with their wife/partner and children, in community etc., will get them to open up, will speak to their heart and will transform and heal them. No one wants someone telling them what to do. But walking the journey with people, sharing with them tools, skills and practices to alter their destinies, helping them to understand the reasons behind their abusive tendencies, is something that all societies will benefit from immediately.

Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption states in his memoir. “If you are not proximate, you cannot change the world.” What I understood him to be saying is that rather than judge people, often from a distance, we must come together with them, get to know them, get “proximate.” Jesus preaches likewise. In the Beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount from my perspective Jesus was defining success and well-being to be about “relationship." He was telling us to get "proximate.” He was also letting us know that the kind of people we should seek to be identified with, are those we often try to avoid. Amongst them the poor and those in solidarity with them, those who mourn, who feel grief and loss, those who hunger and thirst for the common good and aren’t satisfied with the status quo, those who work for peace and reconciliation, those who keep seeking justice even when they are misunderstood and misjudged.

Jim Sporleder and Carey Sipp pictured above are two such people. For two days we got proximate, we navigated the “River of Cruelty” and tried to understand the flow and acquire the means to get out of the river that as Steve and Dorothy say, “comes at a price.” Because in order to understand the flow of the river of cruelty we must be willing to “discover our own personal truth.” If we are not willing to do this, if we are unwilling to open our hearts, to be vulnerable and courageous, and to do it together and in proximity to each other, the river will continue through us to the people we love and beyond.

Carey Sipp works as the Southeast Regional Community Facilitator for ACEs Connection, and says her experience of having been shamed and abused by a ninth-grade teacher galvanized her desire to see an end to "the river of cruelty" that can be perpetuated by teachers themselves. She says this work with teachers is especially important because schools have such potential to be safe, nurturing places that foster community, and teachers can have such a positive impact on children.

She writes,”I have friends who are teachers and one friend who is a behavioral specialist. They all say the amount of trauma they see in children today explains why it is so difficult for children to learn. One educator explains to me that she often hears from teachers complaining about disruptive children and teachers wanting to see pre-K students suspended from school for their behavior. She says often the teachers themselves become dysregulated in reaction to students’ behavior, because the teachers have likely not dealt with their own childhood trauma. We talk about the fact that there is little or no training to teach teachers how to deal with their own trauma, and how much that is needed. Dysregulated kids cannot learn; dysregulated teachers cannot teach.”

In the next installment of the Topeka experience I will focus of that "one person who believed in us." That person that Alice Miller defined as the "Enlightened Witness."


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