The Violence and Heroism Hidden in the Home
by David Gibson
The home is the place where “the most striking and generous” forms of peacemaking are witnessed. Unfortunately, the home also is a place where violence occurs. For, while both violence and peacemaking ultimately are “matters of the human heart,” they play out in the places “where human beings meet,” the Catholic bishops of Australia say in a statement for Social Justice Sunday, observed Sept. 26 this year by the church in their nation.
Titled “Violence in Australia: A Message of Peace,” the statement was issued by the bishops’ social justice council. It addresses violence in the various personal, family, social, political and interreligious contexts in which it arises. The forms of violence also vary, it points out. Violence may be expressed physically or emotionally, and it may be built into society’s structural workings.
“Violence can be considered an attempt to control someone else by physical and/or psychological force,” the statement explains.
One noteworthy section of the statement contrasts the “hidden violence” and the “hidden heroism” located in homes.
“Domestic violence is as likely to be found in rich as in poor families; those who suffer it are more likely to be women and children. Many of those who act violently suffered abuse in their own childhood,” the statement observes. It says that “children in these situations, ashamed not to be able to protect themselves or those they love, can come to associate peacemaking with appeasement and cowardice.”
On the other hand, homes often are places where people “struggle bravely” with anger, forgiving one another and making “peace in difficult situations,” the statement notes. Society is aware that domestic violence is real, but “we are less aware of the courage of those who control their feelings, soothe the angry and try to find a better way to resolve conflict,” the statement asserts.
None of which is to suggest that domestic violence should be “endured passively.” In acknowledging that “patience and strength are apparent in family members who struggle with normal feelings of frustration and anger,” the statement also notes that “there can be situations where feelings are not dealt with adequately and violence can ensue.”
The bishops speak in their statement of “the great strength displayed by those who seek professional support when violence threatens the well-being of their family.”
Peacemaking in the face of violence is the theme of the Social Justice Sunday statement. “Circuit breakers” prominent in Jesus’ teaching are intended to “reverse the predictable cycles of quarreling, hostility and violence” within the human family, it proposes.
Among its key points of emphasis, the statement:
— Analyzes the role played by anger in human disputes, whether at home or elsewhere.
— Accents the principle of human dignity, suggesting that to overcome hostilities it is necessary to recognize the dignity of the others who inhabit our smaller and larger universes.
— Cautions against a human tendency to demonize and dehumanize others, thus failing to recognize their God-given dignity.
The call to serve as peacemakers is viewed in the statement as a call to recognize the God-given dignity of others – from the dignity of family members to the dignity of new immigrants and marginalized native peoples. “At each level of our lives many factors encourage violence. But these factors also invite us to build peace,” it states.
“Listening respectfully to another’s point, even if we disagree, bestows a dignity that is fundamental to all relationships,” the statement exhorts readers. It says, “Even in times of uncertainty or tension there is scope to speak and act kindly.”
But anger often diverts people from their peacemaking role in life. The statement ascribes both positive and negative roles to anger, which, on the one hand, is “a normal emotional response to loss, frustration or the experience of injustice.”
However, while anger sometimes makes “a good servant,” the statement says it will not make “a good master.” One reason is that anger tends to be accompanied by “blame and personal insults,” which block people from addressing the causes of their problems.
It is at home and in school that children, if they are fortunate, learn how to act peacefully, the statement observes. For parents, other family members and schools can encourage children “to have big desires for things beyond [their] immediate needs.”
Yet, it says, even those who have enjoyed “good role models in life” are likely to find that controlling anger and becoming peacemakers represent “a lifetime’s work.” Here it advises readers that “the key to acting in a peaceful way lies in shaping our desires and handling our anger creatively.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.