How do we break free of this legacy of violence

by Joyce Jonas
Guyana Chronicle
August 29, 2000

I'M certain I was not the only person left reeling from the account of a man cutting off both hands of the woman he lived with and digging out one of her eyes.

There's something terrifying about the intensity of rage that could drive a man to such behaviour. Yet even a cursory glance at our newspapers suggests that vicious attacks like this one are only too common in this country.

For too many of our people, the standard way to solve a disagreement is with a cutlass or a bottle of acid.

Walter Rodney and others have attempted to link the pervasive brutality in our society with the brutality that characterised life on the plantations during slavery and indentured labour.

They may have a point, but I am concerned not so much with how the problem came about as with how we are going to solve it - how to break free from this vicious legacy.

What I observe is that a child of two who watches his mother beat the other children learns very quickly to pick up a stick and use it - maybe to hit the dog, the next in line in the pecking order. And so one sees insensitivity - even brute callousness - at every turn.

On the Parika wharf the other day I saw a youngster with a live fish. Instead of killing it outright, he was methodically mutilating it, sawing at its fins with a piece of wood - unmoved by the suffering he was obviously and gratuitously inflicting.

A similar incident occurred at a city market. A young man had bought a live fowl, and holding it firmly under his arm he was deliberately plucking out handfuls of feathers - quite heedless of the agonised cries the bird made.

This week outside my home a cart man was mercilessly beating his horse. The poor creature was all over in a lather of sweat from trying to pull a cart that was absurdly overloaded, and when its best efforts failed to get the load in motion, the cart man responded with curses and still more blows.

And if treatment of animals is brutal, what about our treatment of our children and of our spouses? Indeed, some of us are so twisted that we actually enjoy the spectacle of another's suffering.

I don't have the solutions, but I feel we should be desperately concerned about our tolerance of cruelty. Education certainly is part of the answer and religion too. Our children should be taught to ask themselves the question. How would I feel if someone did that to me?

We need countrywide educational programmes on good parenting and child-raising techniques as well as on non-violent ways of resolving conflicts.

Then too, existing legislation governing ill-treatment of animals needs to be pulled out of the drawer and properly enforced. And all of us need to stop turning the blind eye or pulling our cloaks around us in self-righteousness when the blows and screams start in the next yard.

I would like to challenge our religious leaders and our educators to think long and hard about this widespread problem of brutality and to come up with ways of breaking into the vicious cycle. Because if we can't do any better than we are doing at present, then all our religion and all our children are not worth a fig.

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