The Back-Hand Slap

We’ve all felt its stinging blow, made all the more painful because of its shocking delivery.

It’s unexpected, slamming into our reality with a hint of distaste and dismissal. Perhaps it is because it comes full throttle, followed by an open-hand smack that has thrown you to the floor. You’ve yet to recover from the first blow and here comes another.
But let me be clear, I am not talking about physical violence here. Perhaps I could write a wonderful essay exploring the trauma of being hit by another, but my thoughts have taken another route today. What I am speaking of is much more subtle, much more devious, and as such, much more harmful.

I am sure many have seen it happen. There is something about a cry for help that brings out the best in some: compassion, honesty, sharing. But I would be remiss if I didn’t speak about the “others,” those that are much too busy, so above it all that it seems too troublesome to deal with anyone else’s pesky little complaints. It is a problem that they do not want to see; that they are not inclined to address and in short, that they don’t want to deal with. Perhaps it reminds them of a painful event in their own life, one they’ve made an unconscious promise never to revisit. It’s the pink elephant in the room. They know it’s there, but they don’t want to talk about it.

Like most dysfunctional behavior, I can imagine it all started when we were very small. Somewhere in the world, a little boy is devastated that his sister has wrecked his favorite toy truck. He runs into his mother’s arms in tears, lamenting his broken truck and his broken heart, but to Mommy – who’s had a hard day at work dealing with a self-righteous supervisor and back-stabbing co-workers – this broken toy is the least of her problems. She brushes his tears away and his complaints, tells him that if he stays out of his sister’s room, his toys will be safe and shoos him away.

Maybe that’s where the message starts: “You are too much trouble to be dealt with, and if you would just change your behavior, your ‘problem’ will go away.” And so maybe some of us grow up having been dismissed and tossed aside for much of our childhood, our feelings ignored and devalued, and maybe, just maybe, we recreate this scenario wherever we go.

I recently spoke to a friend of mine. She works as a waitress and explained how annoyed she was becoming with one of the busboys who worked there, someone who was a little too friendly with his hands. Of course she’d gone to her boss with her complaints, but nothing was done about it.

One day late at night, stressed from a hard day’s work, arms loaded with dirty dishes as she made her way to the kitchen, he reached out and gave her a “friendly” pat on the buttocks. Shocked and offended, she caught herself just before she fell, gasping at even the thought of having to clean such a mess off the floor. And then she let him have it!

Her boss later said he was shocked at her behavior. Being a waitress, after all, was a stressful job, something she should understand and be prepared for. The fact that this busboy had touched her inappropriately was no reason for her to blow her cool and act so unprofessionally.

She was called into his office and reassigned to another section of the restaurant. “And, oh, by the way, you might want to just stay out of Carlos’ way.” This parting advice was given as she made her way to the door. Dejected and re-violated, she told me this story with a heavy heart and asked if I understood. I patted her on her shoulder. Of course I did. Haven’t we seen it many times over in our own daily lives?

These tribunals are created: The Civilian Complaint Board, The Parents-Teachers Associations, crime hot lines, all as a guise to give us the illusion that if we complain about what is wrong, if we report those who disregard the rules established by “the powers that be,” something will be done. Yet the reality is it is the complainant, more often than not, who is attacked for foolishly making the complaint.

A rape victim crawls into a police precinct, devastated. She is reeling from a traumatic experience, plagued with her own self-doubt and what-ifs but still has enough fortitude and strength to stand up for herself, to silently say through her actions that what has been done to her is WRONG. But what is she often met with? Questions: “Why were you there? Is this what you were wearing? Well, don’t you think he might have thought –?” There is that message again.

A child, cruelly robbed of its innocence, violated as no human being should ever be, in a last desperate attempt to hold on to her sanity confesses to her mother what has happened but her mother cries out, “What have you done? What did you do to make him do that to you?” There goes that message again.

The battered wife, crouched in a corner, wallowing in a private world of pain reaches out for someone to lend her a helping hand, and maybe she’s told, “If you would just learn to “¦ maybe he wouldn’t be so mad. There’s that message again.

At school, your child is being tormented by bullies on his school bus. You demand a meeting with his principal and request that something be done. Very subtly, the principal suggests that perhaps your parenting skills are not what they should be. “I mean, your son is shy and withdrawn. It kind of invites that kind of behavior. What are you doing to get him out in more social situations? He’ll have to live in the real world sometime, you see.”

Oh, I do see. I see that message again. It’s clear. As the victim, you are in control of the perpetrator’s behavior. You can, in fact, prevent yourself from being hurt, violated, abused, molested, or disrespected if you just learn how to behave properly; if you would just stay out of the person’s way; if you just fall in line.

It seems we are often being told to behave and play nicely. So much for validation. So much for understanding. So much for actually addressing a problem and fixing it. From home to school to the work place and in our own personal lives, perpetrators are being coddled and excused while the victims are being hung out to dry.

Those inalienable rights that we all speak of, it seems when they are violated you must fight tooth and nail to get them back. It represents, in my mind, a macroscopic view of the dysfunctional family on a grander scale.

If there is something wrong, we don’t really want to know about it. The appearance of a nice, stable family, school, work place, and society must be maintained at all costs. It must be maintained at the cost of your integrity. It must be maintained at the cost of your self-esteem. It must be maintained at the cost of yourself.

Well, I for one have decided that I will not play this silly game. When my rights are violated, if I have no invested interest in where I am, I will pack up my bags and leave, either figuratively or literally, whatever the situation calls for. If I have an interest in “staying,” I will speak loudly and clearly in defense of my rights. And if I am vilified or persecuted for saying what I believe, then so be it. No one will ever try to take my rights away without my calling them to task. They’re my rights, and you can’t have ’em!

I encourage all those who are treated unfairly to stand up for your rights. If you go for help and are instead attacked and demeaned, however subtly, I say You Stand Up for Your Rights. Stand tall and stand proud and speak clearly until someone hears you.

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