Recently, it seemed to make sense to me that there is a relationship between the experience of abuse, and the subsequent emergence of resilience, habituation and apathy. This relationship appeared to me a few days ago following a theft which i incurred. I woke up to go to work, entered my car and realized that the GPS unit i have come to rely on was missing. I ran in the house, woke up my wife and searched the house for a few minutes before it slowly but surely became clear to me that someone had lifted it from the car. I felt that deep sinking in my heart which i have come to know a few times over the course of my life. It is that distinct feeling i have come to know each time i have been subject to abuse. By abuse, i mean more specifically the type defined by someone taking something from me, violating my personal space, helping themselves to something that i worked hard to get, exerting power and undue influence upon me through those gestures. It is a kind of abuse which anyone who has been subjected to theft or robbery will likely know. As a kid growing up, the homes we lived in were robbed somewhere around 5-7 times plus a couple of attempts which were foiled. I have experienced a couple of face to face muggings as well. Each of these experiences left me feeling a sense of profound discouragement about human nature. My faith was shaken. After a while though, i thought about the perpetrators. I thought about how they might have been in need of money, how they might have had rough lives, been on drugs, and perhaps suffered even more abusive forms of abuse . I then thought about how many ways i could have been hurt and i even started to feel thankful that it had not been worse. I thought that even though i was on the receiving end of that particular abuse, maybe everything balances out eventually because i had things which others wanted, an now they had them. Maybe it was divine providence. After all, my neighbour's car was robbed too and he told me he had no anger or resentment towards the perpetrators. I wanted to know if his position was one of wisdom or if he just had so much money that he cared nothing for the loss of easily replaceable material possessions. In my case, I have always been roughly able to move from a position of being the victim of abuse to being the active participant in the evolution of my own world view. In this case, I moved from a position of powerlessness to one of power. I overcame my tribulations and incorporated them into my worldview. I now recognize that we are perfect and flawed simultaneously, not more of one than the other. I transformed my pain into understanding. I guess that is the path every victim must take in order to move forward. I guess that is what resilience is all about
So far, i have described the path i followed from a starting point of lowly victim to ascendant overcomer. I should finish my original description of the incident by telling you that i got into my car without my gps system and eventually got lost on a detour and that all this eventually led to me being about 20 minutes late for my first day of work. The whole time this was going on, i was imagining myself catching the thief red handed and rendering some swift justice. But the point of this whole post is not to fuel the fire of my initial rage at having been disrespected and abused. The point is to tell you how i have tried to move past this. So, as my story goes, i move from a position of victim to a position of privilege because you could say that anytime you can learn something about the world and human nature, you are experiencing privilege in it's most raw state. After all, learning about our world makes you smarter and this means nothing less than the survival of your genetic lineage over time, or so Darwin tells us.
Following the empathy for my abuser, I am lead to a position of greater self awareness. From this resilient transition, this transcendence from the initial problem i become more humane. After having been through this cyclical transition a few times, i find there emerges a certain form of habituation to the problem. It is a fact that i have become relatively more comfortable with the reality that people steal things, rich from poor, poor from rich and that this is an ordinary or at least common part of our experience. We may all gradually become habituated to the reality that theft is common, to such a degree that we do not even question whether or not a purse will be stolen when it is left unattended. When the purse is stolen, we look at the victim as having made a mistake by leaving it. I find myself getting almost this habituated each time i turn the other cheek. Of course, turning the other cheek is not exactly what happens in my case because there is no criminal to confront. No note of thanks and no apologies for the offence. I don't really have a choice in that regard. The only choice i have is to either stay angry, or choose a more light hearted path towards some kind of forgiveness, or at least acceptance. So far as i am growing and moving forward in my consciousness towards more enlightened places i am on the right path. It is what happens afterwards - the apathy - which frightens me most. It is that process of habituation, normalization of horrible acts which alarms me. Now is a good time to turn to the last part of this post about Abuse, Resilience, Habituation and Apathy.
While a certain amount of normalization is a good thing, it can go too far, turning us into complacent fools and slaves of our own making. Normalization allows me to limit the trauma inflicted upon my psyche. It is the process through which i say to myself: "It's not so bad. This kind of thing happens all the time and I should not take it personally because it is about material wealth and in the end, materialism is at the bottom of the list of things which account for the humanism that i want to be part of ". Still, to take one step further in this process of normalization, is to walk too far into the abyss of apathy. An abyss where I feel nothing. Where i expect robberies, muggings, violence to occur nightly, and when they do, feel nothing. Yes, it is apathy itself which is the scourge of our humane existence. It is apathy which is that most harmful legacy, left behind for victims to collect from abusive transactions. The abuser already has the virus of apathy. After all, you can't hurt another person unless you able to muster the apathy to do so. The abuser is infected and you must find a way to live with that abuser in your midst without catching the bug. There is no other way to help yourself or others. Empathy is the bridge, compassion is the cement. I walk a path between two places, for the stakes of doing nothing when waters rise is far too high. The tally incurred by refusing to walk that path is nothing less than the loss of your very soul to the careless abandonment of care.
Joni Mitchell wrote a song called Shine a while back and it evokes the thought and feeling of this post for me. Check it out.