What We Can Do

This speech was deliver by Executive Director Jon White on the occasion of the event “Take Back the Night”, September 26, 2013:

Good evening:

I have had the great honour in my lifetime of being in relationship with some very powerful women: my wife Marian, my daughter, my elder sisters, colleagues and friends. I have watched them grow as individuals and as women and recently was in New Brunswick when my daughter Lindsay delivered twin girls, sunny-side up, naturally and with no drugs of any kind.

To do so, she had to be courageous and persistent. The pressure to do it in a way that was convenient for others, was strong and pervasive. Yet, she stood in her power and demanded an outcome based on solid research and knowing her own body. I am clear, in retrospect, that she pulled off something I know I wouldn’t have the strength to even attempt. In the end, every one from the Obstetrician to the nursing staff were in awe of her accomplishment.

I share this story as an example of a powerful young woman. I am dismayed when I hear too many other young women talking to each other and treating each other in a way that belies the struggle of so many women of my generation, who risked everything to be treated with greater respect. I am dismayed when I stand at the check-out counter at the grocery store, scanning the cover stories and the cheesy magazines and wondering if we’ve made any headway at all in 40 years. I am dismayed by much of what I see on Facebook.

When I’ve worked in schools, I quickly observed that boys, by the time they reach Grade 3, have learned there will be an unpleasant price for being naturally emotional. By the time they reach Grade 8, they have actually forgotten how to be fully emotional. What is this world that continues to teach boys the terrible price of being real? I cannot even figure out when or why that began! In the caveman days, when emotions got in the way of fighting or fleeing for survival? Those days are long gone. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I had to slay lunch!

My Father, through his words and actions – and perhaps because of the two wars in which he fought – taught me the fatal man-choice: you must be soft like a woman, or as hard as nails. I tried being tough and all I got for it was loneliness, bitterness and anger. Later, it led me into an addiction to alcohol and the terrible toll it took on me and those I loved and who loved me. I sobered up many years ago and I decided that I could be both those things: loving, nurturing and emotionally expressive when appropriate and tough as leather as the situation warranted. I taught my daughter and my son the same thing.

After years of working with men who abuse women, my conclusion is clear: abusive men are emotionally dependent on the women they abuse. They honestly believe that the woman has all the power in the relationship and emotionally, she does. So men have used the thick stick of authority and strength to get their way and to protect the object of their abuse from slipping away.

I have always considered it my sacred duty to model for men my soft side, as well as my tough, so-called manly side. I do this while I re-teach them emotional expression and management. As men change, the world of women will inevitably change. The concept that men must be hard and unfeeling contributes to the travesties that have been visited upon women. This myth has left men around the world betrayed and we have all paid a horrible price for it. Men also need to learn to stand in their power – not the authority that tradition and culture has given them. Powerful men abuse no one; it is unnecessary and destructive and they understand that. When more men learn this, the world will change.

I will continue to call to my brothers around the world, to work with our sisters to create a safer, gentler, more hospitable life for all. I suspect that wherever the human race is headed, we must go there together, hand in hand with Spirits joined, walking side by side.

I want young women and men to understand the risks that were taken on their behalf. I want young people to appreciate the many things they take for granted, that so many others fought so hard to obtain. I accept that those in front, leading the charge, also make the most convenient targets. I, too, have taken my share of hits. But, I also know that this world cannot permit the useless damage, the abuse or the death of another single soul, who’s lost potential continues to deprive us of brilliant minds and perspective. I believe that drugs, alcohol, bullying and other forms of abuse are ravaging our young people – our most precious resource. Where and when will it stop?

It will stop when we, as adults, learn to stand in our power. Not in authority, which is a device of humanity, but in our personal power, which is Creator-driven. It will stop when we embrace the knowledge that because of the events in our lives, we often don’t know the answers because we often don’t even know the questions. We will require the right help, support and encouragement to take back the night, to heal from the darkness and to return to the state of powerful grace in which we were born.

I have five grandchildren, four of them girls. I watch and I learn from them all. I am immensely proud that they will never experience the childhood I had and that the changes I made in my own life are a large factor in that. I took responsibility finally for all that I was and for all that I was not and fought for the resources and help to change and grow and then reached out to help heal others so I might be likewise healed.

I also want them to know what Germaine Greer taught me in her books so long ago and that I, in turn, taught my daughter: “that women’s liberation means embracing gender differences in a positive fashion – a struggle for the freedom of women to define their own values, order their own priorities and determine their own fates.”

In my marriage to Marian, I have experienced the enduring power of unconditional love. She has taught me that we are not called to be perfect. We are called to be conscious; that is, to accept personal responsibility for every thought, word and action and their impact on our own well-being and the well-being of others. This love has transformative power and calls us to strive to be our best and to forgive ourselves when we cannot.

My clients and students have taught me that to heal from abuse and pain we need someone to believe in us, most especially on the days in which we cannot believe in ourselves. This kind of unconditional positive regard is also transformative.

Life has taught me that I do not know the truth, just my truth and that my truth is comprised of my upbringing, my culture, my education and mostly my experiences. I have learned that I am entitled to my truth and that you are equally entitled to yours.

And finally, tonight has reminded me that the desire to be free, to chart one’s own course, to express one’s Spirit in whatever way one sees fit, is alive and well in the world. Tonight, we gather to take back the night. Tonight we gather in solidarity to “Shatter the Silence” and “Stop the Violence.” As the child of a violent home, I stand shoulder to shoulder with you in achieving that goal.

I believe that personal safety, meaningful opportunity and supportive love are our birthright. Yet, I have witnessed that right here in Canada – surely the most privileged place on the planet – and in too many other countries around the world, that much more work must be done to ensure that all of us are accorded these simple things, from the moment of our creation.

It has been said that: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.” Thank you for being here tonight – doing something.

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