The widespread and seemingly more frequent acts of violence around our country and the world motivated me to reflect on my thirty-year human services career to determine what contributed to me not being a target of violence.
I believe that it was my approach that kept me insulated from violence. My goal was to treat individuals with respect regardless of their background. Respect empowers individuals to choose the course of treatment that is best for them, and enables therapists to present options that might not have been considered. Respect breeds trust. It creates a safe and therapeutic atmosphere for individuals to work through their challenges.
The Importance of Working Together
My late supervisor and mentor, Don Kapes, first taught me the importance of adopting a respectful stance in our interactions with individuals. I was part of an interdisciplinary treatment team that Don supervised. We worked with individuals who had extensive criminal histories, mental health challenges and substance abuse issues. In addition, they had a deep mistrust of authority figures. The first thing that Don impressed upon us is something that I have passed down to other human service professionals: “Do treatment with someone, not to them.”
Level the therapeutic playing field by empowering individuals to have a voice in their treatment. Don taught me that anyone whose voice is honored feels respected, and safe. Silencing the voice of another person not only disempowers them, but also sets the stage for volatile reactions.
Honoring the Teachings of Others
One of the first individuals that I worked with in the chemical dependency field was a Caucasian veteran of the Vietnam War. He was involved in combat. When he returned to the States, to cope with Post –Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), he drowned out the horrors of war with alcohol. During one of our first meetings, he requested to not have staff touch him when waking him. He explained that while in Vietnam many of his fellow soldiers were killed in their sleep.
Consequently, he became a light sleeper. He further disclosed that any physical touch would provoke him to attack, due to his desire for self-preservation. He had no desire to hurt any one else, or continue to fight a war. In retrospect, he was among the first people to teach me about the importance of adopting a peaceful perspective with my fellow man.
I was never a member of the military, but years later I would understand the importance of self- preservation as it played out in my early grief following my daughter Jeannine’s death in 2003.
While revisiting my human service career, I reflected on what needs to be done to achieve global peace. I truly believe that the respect I cultivated with individuals in my care would certainly work towards achieving this objective. Society would first need to buy-in to the belief that prevention of violence and the promotion of peace is the responsibility of everyone. We need to witness and understand each other’s challenges without judgment. The time is now to inspire different perspectives on how we view our fellow man/woman. We are all from the same human DNA; we are all one.
Authoring a Different Ending
For many who have undergone catastrophic loss or other life-altering transitions, the world is not a safe, predictable place. Any uncontrolled and senseless acts of violence reinforce this point. With that in mind, I wish to focus my attention on Eric Garner’s encounter with police that resulted in his death. In the video that I viewed online, I heard Mr. Garner saying very animatedly and demonstratively that: “I did not sell nothing” and “I am minding my business officer (twice) and please just leave me alone.” Demonstrative and loud does not necessarily equate to violence. Mr. Garner was not looking for a violent confrontation, if anything he was looking to avoid it. If one of those officers removed Mr. Garner from the situation and further explored what was going on with him, he may still have gotten arrested. He would however, still be alive. We could be viewing this event as a prototype for peace, rather than as an example of man’s inhumanity to man.
I would love to watch a video of a similar incident with the resolution that I previously described. It would reinforce to the world that solutions motivated by peace are more desirable, permanent and healing, then those solutions clouded by fear, misunderstanding, and a need to exert superiority over our fellow man. It would also illustrate that the best show of force is no force at all.