I have been away from my home community for several years. I have had the opportunity to see and do a lot of things. I have travelled and lived abroad, and I have worked in the urban Aboriginal community for a long time and learned a lot of things I probably would have never known had I not left my home.
Returning home, I have eyes that see clearer and wider and I think I can recognize certain things that other community members might not see because they are so enmeshed in…well, the community.
I’ve had my share of gossip and back stabbing. I not only experienced it here where I grew up, but also in my workplace where I almost let the lateral violence destroy me. If you don’t know the term, please check out this link for a quick description on what it is. This behaviour occurs in other groups of people as well, but for this purpose, I am focusing on the Aboriginal population.
In short, lateral violence is basically when a historically oppressed group of people start to act out rage, anger and frustration on each other. This shows up as gossip, blaming, shaming and back stabbing. It contributes to marriage breakdowns, loss of jobs, alcoholism and drug addiction, just to name a few. This in turn, keeps each other down and perpetuates a vicious cycle of mental, emotional and spiritual violence.
One of the sad things that I have learned since moving back home is that lateral violence is a way of life up here. I won’t say everyone, but a lot of people have never known any other way of relating to others except to tease, blame, shame and gossip about those they don’t like or are jealous of. Even my children have experienced this behavior from other children in the community. This in particular really angers me as we always hear our elders say that our children are our future, so shouldn’t we be teaching them about being open and honest and acting with empathy and integrity?
I have also encountered this since moving back home. It’s a fine line to tread between doing the right thing and unknowingly participating in this invisible poison. It seems like an uphill battle to try and undo the damage that has been done.
I’m not perfect either and I don’t know all the answers. I do know that it takes more than one person and more than just ignoring it to put a stop to it. Already I have had to confront someone who was whispering untruths about me behind my back. I did my best to be straight up but not mean about it. It was scary but I’m glad I did it when I first caught wind of it. I expect a much different outcome in my relationship with this person now that I confronted it head on. I hope the outcome is positive.
It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but I think confronting it in a good way makes a profound difference. The damage done by lateral violence can’t be changed overnight especially when most people don’t see what it is because they are right in the thick of it. Those of us that do see it and know the difference, will humbly continue to do the powerful work of pointing it out and saying so.