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The Ethics of Violence: Why Trauma Doesn’t Excuse Brutality

In a 1984 conversation, the notable black author and social critic, James Baldwin, and black feminist writer and poet, Audre Lorde, discussed the issue of violence in the black community, particularly the violence directed toward black women. After James presented a deterministic argument, asserting that black men were simply products of their circumstances and shouldn’t, reasonably, be blamed for their actions, Audre retorted:

…what we do have is a real disagreement about your responsibility not just to me but to my son and to our boys. Your responsibility to him is to get across to him in a way that I never will be able to because he did not come out of my body and has another relationship to me. Your relationship to him as his father is to tell him I’m not a fit target for his fury.

Her brilliant response highlighted two important facts:

1. Although trauma breeds further trauma, and hurt people tend to hurt others, one has a moral obligation, as challenging as it is, to rise above his circumstances and treat others with compassion.

2. Fathers, especially, have an obligation to impart this teaching to their sons, as most violence occurs by men toward other men and by men toward women.

It’s so cliche that it should go without saying, but, seemingly, it needs to be said anyway: Only the traumatized victim can break the cycle of brutality, that while his suffering and mental illness are not his faults, healing is his responsibility because no one else can do it for him. As a therapist, often, my toughest job is helping others empathize with those whom they have hurt, in trying to help them acknowledge a basic tenet of humanity, which implores all of us to refrain from intentionally committing harm. Usually, they present the expected response in some varied form, one which has the underlying theme of an unwillingness to care because others didn’t care for them, especially when needed most.

So, to be clear, I recognize the task to be a Herculean effort, and I remind myself of it each time I consider my stepfather’s viciousness, recalling his sense of unlovability, which he consistently actualized, and fulfilled, through what felt like incessant campaigns of terror. I understand now because I need to because I’d be shattered if I didn’t. But, the world that we’re building needs to be better, and it demands us to end the cycles. I tell my patients that there are other ways, and means, of unloading sorrow, that suffering is not, and cannot be, resolved through further pain. But, to rise above is to become a saint, as Viktor Frankl would have said, and those who find a way deserve an immensity of our love, for they are our light-bearers.

In the end, Baldwin assented, humbled by Audre’s entreaty. He noted that “Women know much more about men than men will ever know about women – which may… be the only reason that the race has managed to survive so long.” Amazingly, it’s mostly been women accommodating men, accepting and placating them in order to preclude acts of violence. So, when is it our turn? When do our actions become our responsibility? When do we accept that isn’t up to others, women, in particular, to understand us, but for us to become decent individuals?

I’ve forgiven my stepfather because I’ve allowed myself to empathize with him, but I have never respected him, and never will; simply put, he doesn’t deserve it. But, James Baldwin does, and so do the countless survivors who’ve stopped the violence, wishing for their sons to be better men. Help is available for those who really want it. And trauma, while possessing the potential to corrode a man’s entire spirit, does not excuse him from responsibilities, and will never excuse away his brutality.

2 responses on "The Ethics of Violence: Why Trauma Doesn't Excuse Brutality"

  1. I am Johnson Benjamin a retired soldier in the United states army.
    I was disgnosed of prostate cancer in 2012,
    and i have not been having things easy because of the severe pain.
    Hence, I was operated on in Texas hospital, September 2012 and i thought
    all will be well afterwards.
    The pain still persisted, even when i was told by my doctor that the operation was successful.
    I was placed on several drugs and ran several test. Then, my doctor told me that he has been wanting to tell me something.
    He came down
    to my place and told me about the Turmeric extract (Turmeric is a flowering plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, the roots of which are used in cooking.
    The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. ) for treatment of cancer and other related diseases.
    I was shocked at first
    ,because the source of this remedy is from ginger. But i was not bothered, so i agreed to use this remedy.
    But he further gave me detials
    of who to contact for this, and that the doctor is his colleague and his name is Dr. Ahmed Mustafa who resides in Dubia.
    After making contact with Dr. Ahmed mustafa,
    he sent me the substance with the instructions on how to use it.
    I spent 3-4 months using it and from the 2nd month of usage
    i was already feeling better,
    but i was told to continue using it until i finish the required quantity that was prescribed for the treatment.
    Now am feeling better
    and i move with ease. I don’t feel anymore pains as i used to, its all gone, all thanks to Dr. Ahmed.

    Contact Dr. Ahmed Mustafa on (cureforcancerinitiative at gmail dot com)

  2. Sorry Leon, but you haven’t “forgiven” your stepfather. Respect cannot be withheld, simply on your subjective appraisal of who’s “deserving”. That’s how he became a brute to begin with – his own family “determined”, on their say so, that he was “worthless”. It’s horrifying to see you perpetuate this violence, in a professional capacity, no less. You are at least as violent as your stepfather was. Perhaps, more so. I’ll bet he never perped out AND did it while standing on a soapbox. God help the men and families who turn to you for help.

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