The Balance of Power

The Balance between Violence, Power, and Abuse

Years ago I was resident in a very different cultural setting from my own. I came upon a strange community gathering. Most of the town was there. Two women were acting out the most violent behaviour I had ever seen off TV. One would stand head bowed, and the other hammer her with a substantial club. Then it was the other's turn to reply. It went on beyond what I thought anyone could have endured. Eventually they were gently separated and led away by their families. I must have looked rather incredulous; one of the town elders spotted me and burst out laughing.

It was only on reflection I realised the subtleties of this event. The women were equally matched. The clubs were of equal size, smooth, and so relatively non-injurious. The blows were carefully directed to the strongest lest fragile parts of the shoulders and upper back. The obvious places to really damage a person were conspicuously avoided. A great proportion of the community was there to watch- although there was some laughter, this was serious business. Things were done properly. Some issue was being resolved. There was an equal basis in power. There was not abuse.

At Christmas dinner my dad made an inflammatory political statement... about the Liberal Party of Australia, as I recall. Instantly his three grown up kids were after him, and the old man ducked and weaved. revelling in the fight. The two grandchildren listened with interest, not necessarily understanding all the argument, but enjoying seeing their aunties wind Pop up. I realised later he led us on a merry dance. We were never going to win, as he was cleverly changing his ground all the time.

It never came to that because my wife told us to stop or she was walking out! And my mum was almost white. Mum would never have answered her Dad back. In my wife's childhood it would never have been possible to argue like this. What was a wild rollicking argument for us... good fun because of Dad's essential peacefulness and gentleness... would have been full of danger. Wild and rollicking would have become fearful violence.

But with Dad there was an equal basis in power. There was not abuse.

Sept 2000



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