Where Do You Draw the Line on Violence?

Verónica Vega

Foto: Janis Hernandez

HAVANA TIMES — Recently, I had the misfortune of witnessing an incident which stirred up in me many of the emotions I described in my post “The Serious Issue of Machismo.”

I was in a truck-bus with my son headed for Havana’s municipality of Cotorro. On the way, a couple, two teenagers who had shown signs of friction when they got on at the stop, began to argue.

The girl had refused to sit down (perhaps in a show of defiance) and would not stop recriminating her boyfriend, who become more and more agitated and ended up yanking her hair and slapping her on the face.

Unable to contain myself, I yelled:

“Hey, kid, what’s that all about?!”

For a moment, the two appeared to put their emotions in check. They continued to argue in a lower tone of voice. The elderly gentleman sitting beside me then said to me, somewhat worried:

“Please, don’t intervene, it’s just asking for trouble.”

There was no question in my mind he was right, but I couldn’t help but worry about the girl, who was very thin, as opposed to her partner, who was fairly well built.

Outside, a storm had broken out. The driver made a stop to lower the protective canvas at the sides of the truck and keep us from getting soaked. Shuddering with each roar of thunder and flash of lightning, I saw that the young girl had started to cry. Apparently, she was asking her boyfriend to go back with her to the truck. Neither of two had anything to shield themselves from the rain with.

I thought of helping her…but how? I couldn’t exactly get off the bus and I had only one, damaged umbrella, which I was sharing with my son. The deafening roar of the thunder, the heat inside the vehicle that had been sealed up with the canvas and the feeling of being stuck in an overcrowded space distracted me for a few minutes.

Suddenly, the man sitting next to me nudged my arm to point out the couple to me. She had sat down on his lap and, hugging, the two were whispering things and caressing one another.

“See?” the man murmured. “Best to stay out of that sort of thing.”

I gave him a half-agreeing, half-doubtful look. The still-tearful eyes of the young girl, leaning against her boyfriend’s shoulder, expressed shame, self-recrimination, disappointment.

It wasn’t hard for me to work out where that confused tangle of feeling would take her: pride would silence guilt and fear and make her feel more and more insecure, unless someone lucid enough helped her decide to break up with him.

It wouldn’t be her boyfriend, most probably, who perhaps isn’t really a bad kid and had no intention of going so far. But, now that he’s gotten there, will he resort to violence regularly, tempted by his physical advantage over the girl, spurred on by rage? The gentleman next to me had said to me earlier: “She’s been provoking him for a while…”

It’s a deeply-rooted cliché, and I even know of women who (secretly) underestimate men who don’t “put them in their place” if they overstep the mark. Truth is, going over the limit debases both partners. No one should overstep the mark.

Yes, it’s a thorny issue. In the tangle of human relationships, and in the unavoidably complicated sexual relation, a couple can enter into a game of opposites that is often morbid. The mutual psychological dependence that can develop in a relationship is not easy to uproot and, in most cases, couples don’t even attempt to break the vicious circle.

I have never been able to suppress the impulse to go in aid of the weaker person.

The somewhat crushing conclusion of my fellow traveller, however, reminded me that I would be exposing my son to danger, as during the incident that prompted my previous post on this issue, when a friend was kicked by her partner (the father of her child) in the middle of the street, while she was carrying the little girl in her arms. Days later, they made up.

I thought then about how rage and passion can hypnotize us, make us so selfish. If it is true, as they say, that no one should meddle in the affairs of a couple, neither should we make anyone an unwilling witness of our personal problems and resolve our conflicts in private.

As the rain let up and my stop got closer, I couldn’t help but bring to mind a prayer I saw, posted on the wall of a house I visited: “Lord, help me accept that which I cannot change, to change that which I can, and to know the difference.”

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

3 thoughts on “Where Do You Draw the Line on Violence?

  • “The girl had refused to sit down (perhaps in a show of defiance) and would not stop recriminating her boyfriend, who become more and more agitated and ended up yanking her hair and slapping her on the face.”

    Isn’t that how the Cuban authorities deal with defiance and recrimination? They resort to violence and abuse against anybody who dares speak out. Bystanders no better than to get involved.

    People learn by example. This the New Man the Revolution has created.

  • For twenty-five years I worked in multiple U.S. locations with violent juvenile offenders. One of the conclusions resulting from my experiences was that Isaac Asimov was right when he stated, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Stated otherwise, competent humans do not resort to violence.
    Accordingly, it is the collective responsibility of competent humans to first identify for incompetent humans that violence is unacceptable and then help them develop skills to avoid use of violence. I only have spent limited time in Cuba but in the U.S. minimal efforts are made to teach children from a young age skills such as conflict management, decision making, problem solving and stress management. In context of a wide range of interpersonal skills, in the truest sense of the concept, many of today’s youths are genuinely incompetent.
    The issues and related processes are complex but a great beginning point in any culture is for someone like you, when violence is encountered, to at least proffer that violence is inappropriate. By so doing you concurrently provide an example for others and a valuable life lesson for your child. Your valiant example, however, would have been greatly amplified and much more significant if other of your fellow passengers would have verbally supported you.
    My background makes it impossible for me to sit without action in the presence of violence and aggression but my wife continues to remind me that in our culture it is not always wise to attempt to intervene with violent or aggressive strangers. Thus, while I applaud your efforts with this young couple, I will caution that sometimes the best intervention is to solicit assistance from officials more prepared to deal with potentially dangerous violence.
    Ultimately, this article is exactly the type of dialogue everyone needs to read. Thus, Ms. Vega, to you I proclaim, “Bravo!”

  • Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt post. I agree that it is hard to have “the wisdom to know the difference” (as I’ve heard the phrase), in trying to determine what must be accepted and what should be changed. When it comes to abuse, however, I am firm in my belief that it is unacceptable.

    Facing this issue and talking about it, rather than simply looking away and “minding one’s own business” is vital. Abuse, in all of its forms, is far too common around the globe. We are all affected by it, and must all work to make it socially unacceptable. Speaking out against it is an important step toward change.

    Good for you for saying something, in this forum and at the time of the incident. Woman abuse is a complex issue. Many times, women “make a deal with the devil” out of fear. Those viewing a situation don’t know what has happened in the past or what threat lurks beneath the surface. Reunions can be coerced in very subtle ways.

    I try to treat everyone with respect, the way I would want them to treat me. And, I try to speak out against abuse when I am brave enough!

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