between a rock and a hard place
In the throes of a seemingly irreconcilable vice, there are few options. If there seems to be only one of two choices, both bad, one tends to vacillate between freezing solid and oscillating between the two polar opposites.
As a kid, I was confused (not to note angry and silent) whenever I was beaten physically and demeaned emotionally by her as well. The "crime" never seemed to warrant the rage that came over her: a note "ticked" in a piano recital, a failure to win a singing festival, a poor performance in a pre-exam piano recital.
There did however seem to be a similar mis-match between a friendly poke on the shoulder "Hi Roge!" and Miss Swain's immediate use of the strap on my hands in grade four.
Strident women, it seems, have inexplicably found their way into my face and life almost as if by "fate".
Of course, these minuscule anecdotes amount to a ripple beside the tsunami of physical and emotional and sexual violence perpetrated by men against women.
And therein lies the "rub" of the 'rock and hard place'.
"Good boys" do not and must not "rat" on their mother....and yet...
repression of the full truth festers like a toxic emotional boil in one's psyche.
Deferring to the "good boy" for most of eight decades, however, has to finally come to an end.
Although the proportions and dimensions of my plight pale beside the horror inflicted on racial minorities, the story of one family might be illustrative of some of the most heinous social and cultural dynamics.
The abuse of power, whether by a single parent or by a white Christian majority, is the same dynamic in two different theatres.
There are at least two competing forces driving such abuse: a sense of righteous superiority and an equally vehement sense of self-loathing. These paradoxical traits both have roots in a Christian theology that promises eternal life in exchange for living a "good" life.They also are rooted in a fundamental Christian belief in the "sin" and unworthiness of every person. Tying these two notions together according to the Christian view is salvation "by the grace of God"....and that self-injecting into a "life saved" through public acceptance of being born again.
Surrender to the grace of God, however, never happens with the lifting if the inherent "sin" and unworthiness that lies embedded in the theology that sustains a bow to something called humility.
Pretense and humility, like sinfulness and righteousness, oscillate in the mind and spirit of those in the grip of this polarity.
Clearly, these forces are energized in both private thoughts and prayers as well as in public acts and words.
The complex process of integration and balance, analogically by the "ego" (Freud), is characteristically omitted from much if not all of Christian formation.
In fact, ecclesial authority comes from the ownership and projection and enforcement of specific moral "good's" and opposing specific "bad's".
As self-appointed, and socially and politically endorsed moral arbiter, the church first, and then the legal fraternity, attempt to maintain order and safety and security in Western cultures.
However, built into that equation is the power and authority of the church also as arbiter and interpreter of the mind of God.
So those traits of self-righteousness and "sin" are on display as signatures of formally and publicly-declared disciples.
And they show up inside families, schools, the courts, prisons and even hospitals and corporations.
Individuals from an early age attempt to learn to "swim" through the vortex of these forces...not to mention human ambition linked to various paths to power and wealth. The "extrinsic" achievement of power and wealth are likely intended as forerunners and models of "the Good Life" within the wider and deeper parameters of Christian discipleship. Some have even mistakenly sent married "wealth and power," to God's will for "His people" under the rubric of the "prosperity gospel".
Parents' and teachers, while "wanting" the best outcomes for their children and students, nevertheless, bring their own demons into the respective dramas of their engagements. Patterns such as classical conditioning, through rewards and punishments (carrots and sticks), naturally and tragically emerge from such binary footings simplifying the complex relationship between parent and child (authority and governed) into a game of good and bad (right/wrong) experiences.
In a culture over-committed to demonstrating success as the primary way to justify one's worth, the complex nuances of social and emotional and spiritual needs and motivations necessarily give way to overt performance. Such performances can be, will be and always have been open to assessment, to judgement, and to a torquing into a moral "code"...
So parents can and do fall into the trap, as one depraved father did, of promising his six-year-old daughter a dollar for each time her hockey stick touched the puck, in her first year of the sport. The father was frustrated because she was not meeting his expectations.
Sticks and stones will break may bones ...names will never hurt me...
is an epithet that attempts to protect young be kids from verbal bullying...presumably to reduce physical abuse and leave only the harmless name-calling.
However, for some, words can be poisonous arrows of hate, contempt and various forms of bigotry...as if the society were elevating behaviour.
And herein lies the pervasive culture of abuse...borne of a deep sense of worthlessness (sinfulness, difference, awkwardness, mental or physical impairment) projected onto any we deem weak and available targets, even though they may be family members and/or friends or colleagues.
And then, in a pattern of cultural self-sabotage, we treat the "psychic pain" with exposure and condemnation and punishment of the perpetrator hopefully thereby garnering justice for the victim and deterrence for others who might abuse.
As the street cliche goes, "How's that workin' for yah?"
While I will never understand my mother's (or teachers or other family members or even bishops and bosses) need to abuse, I can and do grasp the depth of the pain of those millions who have suffered abuse...in their family or in the wider society.
Indeed, my own participation in mini-dramas of abuse, not the imposition of legitimate sanctions, leaves me regarding those perpetrators with tragic pity more than with the scorn of previous decades.
...The retired female elementary principal so jealously enraged at being denied a treasured appointment who inflicted secretive revenge is one.
...The anal, perfectionistic high-school principal whose damning letter of reference displayed his own emptiness and fear.
...The mother desperately competing for the approval of her children who builds insurmountable walls between her children and their other parent.
...The clergy so married to the power of his own moral purity and adherence to God's will that he succumbed to the defamation of other people of a different faith.
...The woman so desperate for her own self to be restored to health that she admitted openly "destroying" whatever men crossed her path.
...The corporate mogul so deeply embedded in what he knew was a superficial and seductive training model that he succumbed to the drug of alcohol.
...The clergy so desperate for public acclaim that he rushed to the national television cameras completely robed at the moment of a family crisis....
We each have a compendium of the weakest (and most to be pitied) among us. And we all know that we too share our own weaknesses, that most likely have and will render us worthy of such calling-out as we have done here.
It seems that our legal and ecclesial paths to "shame" those who behave inappropriately (sinfully) is about as effective in their lives as well as in the broader culture as a mask mandate in the midst of a global pandemic....not at all.
There is another option to repression and irate shaming. We are all more than the "victims" we have been and our better angels await our choice to join them in our shift in attitude and perception.
We can thank our abusers for showing us their vulnerability even if they did it in ways we wish had been very different.
None of us is "superior" or more morally pure than our abusers!