Presenters at the International Women’s Day event Friday in Chilliwack made the point that since anger and violence are learned behaviours, they can also be unlearned.
The keynote speakers — who work to end domestic violence in professional capacities — addressed the crowd at the Standing Together: Uniting against Violence event, put on the Soroptimists of Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O’Mahony.
The afternoon program at St. Thomas Anglican Church included a video presentation about the BC Lions’ Be More Than A Bystander program with the End Violence Association of BC, as well as keynote addresses by Damian George of the Moose Hide Campaign and Dr. Rob Lees, a psychologist with the Ministry for Child and Family Development.
Damian George, an artist and the grandson of Chief Dan George, works as a spiritual advisor in the correctional system, providing support to male inmates.
“I am a product of violence,” he told the audience. “My mother wore the all-too-famililar big, black sunglasses.”
The impact of residential schools and the 60s Scoop of aboriginal youth meant they were stripped of their heritage, of their mother tongue, of their songs and heritage, which led to helplessness, substance abuse, violence, and jail for some.
He told the story of how when he was married, he thought he wasn’t an abusive man because he never beat on his partner.
“Then I started my healing journey,” George said. He went on retreats with the Warriors Against Violence, where he learned that anger is a learned emotion.
Name calling, monitoring or controlling behaviour are forms of violence that we don’t always see as violence, he noted.
“These are the things I’ve learned to defuse by recognizing the emotions that lead up to them.”
Dr. Rob Lees touched on some of the promising practices in domestic violence work being uncovered in current research. He presented the notion that empathy is hard-wired in, not competition and violence.
Organizations addressing domestic violence and abuse have shifted from a movement that served battered women, he noted, to more professional bodies that offer a range of support and services.
Lees brought up something they’re finding in the review of literature that women want to be safe, but they also want to be in relationships and be connected to their partners, he said.
“They want the men to be fixed; to be healed,” he said.
It’s about learning new behaviours, Lees added, echoing George’s comments, and about developing new models of manhood and relationships.
“I don’t think there is an anger problem, I think there is a hopelessness problem.”
The work, The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin, argues that the core drive of humanity is to belong and to have empathy for others.
“It’s aggression and violence that are perversions of that core drive.”
Breakout sessions rounded out the afternoon. Bobbi Jacob of Anne Davis Transition Society offered details about ADTS programs, while Sheila Smelt, Tanja Shaw and Patti MacAhonic tackled topics like finances, fitness and time management respectively.
* Seer related: Young artists take a stand against violence