Poverty Versus Violence

The little girl grew up in the harsh high plateau of Bolivia, within mountains and cold winds year round.  Her mom died when she was eight, but neither before or after her death did she receive a tender, caressing touch of a loving familiar hand. She is now over thirty and the mother of a five year old boy, who she treats exactly the same way she was always treated.


When the boy was one year old, he had already been in the emergency room many times, especially for colds and diarrhea, and many times for falling, cutting himself, and swallowing objects. The bare truth is that the boy lived on the floor, and she didn´t care to teach him an hour to sleep, an hour to eat, or an hour to play. So, he ended up eating, sleeping and playing on the floor.


When he was two he was forced to shower himself. He had to learn the tough way that the water could be too hot or too cold, and his mom would leave him home alone… with the cell phone next to him, so that he could call her when awake. At three he was responsible for his own food. He learned how to make his own milk, and was forced to ask for food to the neighbors because there was none at home.


The boy is brilliant, though. In spite of the way his mother treats him (his father has no say in this, as she beats the man if he complains), he realizes that he must be educated. When someone offers to teach him something, he goes for it and learns quickly. He goes to pre-k and he is very clever. He is even learning how to read before everyone else.


This mother doesn´t realize she is being violent.  All the spanking, all the shouting, don´t impress her as being violent. Why? One wonders. But if you think about it, even though she is having people around who tell her what to do and how to do it, the harsh truth is that she won´t learn fast. It will take her time to realize that she really needs to review her ways.  This is because she has known no caring ways throughout her life. She has no model to follow. She does not think this behavior is violent. She thinks it is the right way to go with her son and her husband. She believes that if her husband, who only studied high school, cannot earn enough then she has the right to put him down.


The boy is now old enough to understand many things and he makes his father buy him Barney videos. His grandmother sends some books, and his great grandmother usually gives him food, that he eats quickly all by himself. His grandma told him he should not be on the floors sleeping and playing, so now he tries to stand up and run around without falling asleep on the floor.


What is wrong with this mother? I asked myself many times. Only this time I got to answer my question: She is ill. Ill with the illness of poverty, and violent with the violence of poverty. She has been struck by the reality of a life that is very, very hard to live. I don´t blame her for being violent, and I know she will learn little by little. Maybe her son will end up teaching her. 


She acts instinctively, and even though she now holds a university degree, her attitude towards how to raise a kid, or how to lead her life, has not changed yet. This shows that formal education plays a part in making us more capable, but there must be another kind of education that we are not addressing, which is responsible for changing our set of behavioral patterns. 


The definitions of poverty in many books may include the lack of money, the lack of other resources and many other components, but they don´t include violence.  This is because we tend to see violence as a result of poverty, but not as a component of poverty in itself. The case I just presented makes it clear that we need to change this way of thinking. We need to include violence as a component of poverty and we must include this wider view in non formal education.


What I can see as the most accessible way to non formal education for young women is television. Remember that humans are copycats. We tend to copy what we see in our environment and TV, radio, and all media are in our environment.  Soap operas and music that talk about how cool it is to rape, to shout, to take revenge, and to be violent in general, are teaching our girls and boys that being violent is alright.


These three paths are very important if we will end violence in the world:  1. To change the definition of poverty to include violence as one of its components, and not as a result of it; 2. To change our vision of the popular media, by not accepting songs and shows that make violent attitudes look like acceptable; and 3. To accept that poverty is a psychological illness that needs to be treated by professional behavior consultants not only individually, but  locally and globally.


Poverty and its violence make people ill, and this illness needs to be addressed by the whole world, as it creates monsters that don´t caress their children. These children later on are incapable of telling right from wrong, and don´t realize they are being violent. Let us not, in the name of modernity, become evil.


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