The last time was not the first time.
Our kitchen and dining room was tiled, at the back of the house, and there was an island bench in the middle of the rooms running between the sink and kitchen bench and the large glass sliding doors to the back yard.
Only one door into the kitchen from the hallway.
We had a cheap old table, and cheap green chairs, small metal legs with little rubber ends on them, chairs made out of plastic moulds which I think now I haven’t seen for decades since.
The tiled floor is significant; Mum was in the kitchen making cordial for us, so when she was thrown to the floor by my father, the cordial was spilled everywhere. The tiled floor was wet, slightly sticky. The messy liquid was spread across the floor into the dining room as she was dragged around the island bench. Screaming to stop, kicking, thrashing around in an attempt to free her arms. I heard the screams and ran down the hallway to find my father trying to do what I assumed was break both Mums arms off, and slam her face into the floor.
It’s strange what you remember when you reflect on these moments. I remember the wet floor, I remember thinking that I should grab a knife so once mum had been dragged around the kitchen on the floor I could run past and grab a knife and jam it into my fathers back… But I thought he could take it off me and use it on Mum, or me… After all, I’m just a kid.
I’m yelling, Mum’s yelling. Paul's* eyes are black.
You don’t forget that look. I had seen it before, picked up by the throat and slammed into a wall, before being slapped across the wall by the face. I had seen it before. Sitting on my parents bed once before, I saw the blackness as I got an open hand across the face that sent me flying off the bed and into the doorway of the bedroom in one go. I saw the blackness as my father choked my mum in the same bed after she yelled at him for trying to knock my head off. I had seen it before many times. The blackness of the normally brown eyes is firmly etched into my brain, and will be forever I have no doubt.
The black eyes didn’t even barely look at me as he swatted me away the first time I went in to help mum. I didn’t get close. My father was a strong and powerful man in his right mind, let alone in the middle of a rage. So I did the only thing I could think to do after that, and I jumped on his back, trying to choke or pull him off or something. I was only 9 or something, so he pulled me off his back and threw me towards the large glass rear doors. I remember grabbing the chair to stop from flying through the window. I remember sliding in the liquid on the tiled floor. I remember seeing mum still on the floor, and as I hit the window, slowed by the chair, Paul opened the sliding door and threw Mum out.
I wanted to tell him he was a f*#king idiot. To tell him to f*#k off, to yell and scream, but I was terrified that something would happen, all I could manage was to yell at him that he was an idiot.
I remember all of that with such clarity, that it seems odd that I don’t remember how we all got out. I remember running down the hallway and getting my younger brother and sister to go out, and I remember being in our shitty little car ready to go, before mum went in to grab our dressing gowns because it was after dinner time and we were in our pyjamas.
If I go back into my mind’s eye for that time however, there are some details I left out. While I am deciding what to do, whether I will grab a knife, or jump on my fathers back, or scream or yell… My little brother and sister are in the doorway to the kitchen, crying and screaming. My baby brothers little face, chubby, crying, yelling. My little sisters little curls wild and all over her red, wet face, wild bits sticking to her face..
They are both being held back by a man.
Two of my father’s friends were there that night.
I don’t remember their names now, maybe one was Steve, maybe one wasn’t. But there were two of them. Two of Paul's latest drinking buddies. The drinking buddies changed fairly regularly, Paul liked the adulation of hangers on, and so he changed them regularly. I remember that that night they had brought a large, odd shaped bottle of a yellow liquor. I think now, upon reflection that it was some kind of home brew.
I remember the bottle, because one of the men was holding onto it, keeping it out of the way, as he stood in the kitchen just saying something like “Paul, Paul”. I remember he grabbed the bottle so it wouldn’t get knocked off the table during the violence.
I remember the other man taking my little brother and sister to the front of the house where the lounge room was. Away from the beating that was going on in the kitchen.
There were two men in my house that night.
Grown men, who watched someone try to beat my mother up. Grown men who watched another grown man attempt to throw his son through a window.
Often times, when we recount these stories or hear about them, the comment threads encourage people to ‘bash these weak bastards’ or ‘this guy should have his arms broken off’, things of that nature. Violence, for me, is not the answer to undo violence. I have come to a place of peace, by letting go any notion that a beating in any direction, to anybody, will undo the beating that I witnessed.
I think that perhaps in the macho-talk about how we should beat these guys up we miss the message that we should just do something. I don’t know anyone who thinks that what happened is ok, under any circumstance. There might be people who don’t know how to deal with it.
I am glad that I don’t have to walk around as one of the Unpolished men. These two men did nothing to get in the way, nothing to stop what was happening. They might not have been able to beat Paul into a pulp, or follow through on the tough talk that I see on the internet… but I can’t help but feel that they could have done something.
If you are going to be a polished man, if you are going to raise awareness, make sure that you are ready to raise a polished hand in the event that circumstances call on you to do it. Awareness is nothing without being able to speak up, call people out or get in the way of violence against children.
Don’t stand idly by.
Don’t walk around knowing that you should have stepped in, that you should have done more.
Don’t leave a child with the memory of your indifferent observation.
If you see the situation, help first, worry about what happens after.
Not be a hero. Not go in with the intention of beating a ‘child basher’ or a ‘woman basher’, and teaching them a lesson. Just get the people who need help away. Bravery is about doing the right thing, not the big thing. You don’t need to serve ‘justice’ on the spot, you simply need to help. In some way. In whatever capacity you can, depending on the situation and the circumstance.
It’s ok to be scared. The black eyes of a man in a rage are terrifying to everyone. You don’t have to confront them in a way that goes over and above removing the person who needs help from harm’s way. Just do the removing.
Be a Polished Man. Be a Good Man, and always, always Just Be Nice.
*name has been changed
Edit* Thank you to all who donated to my Polished Man Campaign page to raise awareness and funds to prevent violence against children.
For further information on how you can help if you witness or suspect domestic violence, visit www.dvrc.org.au
Please don't hesitate to share this blog if you feel like some people you know might get something out of a conversation like this, and thank you in advance.
Talking, writing, recording, filming. All of these acts put you directly into the brain of the people consuming your content. As you read this, I am making you speak in your head in your voice, the words and thoughts that have come out of my brain.
When you write, you become the inner dialogue in someone else’s head. When you speak, it goes in through the ears, directly to the brain. When you make a video, it’s a multi-sensory invasion of people’s consciousness, though the eyes and the ears, through multiple camera angles, music and dialogue.
When we discuss physical health, we are conscious of what we put into our bodies in order to maintain health. For our brains, it is much the same. Be careful what you put in there, careful what you keep in there and be careful about what other people put in there.
I believe mental health is more complex than just the digestive system. It is more like a combination of the digestive system and the immune system.
You need nourishment, you need to feed your mind with quality nutrients, variation, things that keep you operating in good health. What you allow your brain to take in is responsible for feeding your outlook on life, your happiness, your appreciation for things, your knowledge. Feeding your brain with quality can help your focus, and like a good diet, allow you to operate without cloudy judgement. Variety keeps your synapses fresh and your brain young, like a fresh diet keeps you in good physical health.
For your immune system to function properly however, you need to introduce pathogens from time to time. Your immune system needs to build up defence to pathogens the way that your brain needs a chance to build resilience. Like your body, you should start to develop your immunity early on. If you get to your teen years without having acquired any immunity to the negative thoughts that can affect your brain, you might find that you get affected very seriously.
If you build your immunity from a young age, then you can find yourself immune from community based infections. In a mental sense, you arrive to your teen and adult years with a strong sense of self, self-confidence, independence, compassion and empathy. If you are sheltered from any negative or contrary mental influence, and only experience it as a teen or young adult, you are ill-equipped to get through it without significant trauma that can leave lasting scars.
At the same time, there is a level of infection that no-one can beat off on their own. In those cases, we need antibiotics. For mental infection, the antibiotic substitute can come in the form of supportive friends, love, familial connection, purpose and feelings of belonging. Combined with your own internal immunity, generally we can get through these incidents…. Sometimes, tragically, people don’t.
The point being, we do need to experience negativity to build our immunity to it. You will come across it in the broader community, either at home, or when you travel or change work or school environments. It is unavoidable. We build immunity by small, regular, varied and relevant exposure to these elements, for as long as possible. We build our antidotes by building strong, aware, present, caring and empathetic communities together to support people in times of mental illness.
Being exposed to the measles vaccine is not the same as having measles, and in that way we can look at certain things we consider negative mentally. Being exposed to mild bullying, such as you might find among siblings, might actually make you more resilient later in life to the small (and even large) ribbings that you might get in school or in the workplace. If a child with no siblings is never exposed to these things, then the transition to kinder, school or work might be more traumatic.
Like a virus, or bacterial infection, no matter how strong the antibiotic, there is always an evolution, as we attack one form or incarnation of mental illness, another one will evolve. There will always be new ways for people to spread hate, self-loathing or bullying. As environmental factors change, different strains of stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, pressure will adapt to the new surroundings. Sometimes, rather than just seek stronger antibiotics, it is better to expose people to these factors earlier on, with regular antibiotics on hand and allow individual immunity to develop.
Be mindful of spreading poor mental health, be mindful of ingesting too much ‘fast food’ for your brain. A bit of course won’t hurt, in the same way the occasional burger and chips is fine. Don’t feed the bad mental food to those around you, or those in your care. Feed your mind with positivity and appreciation, work it out by using it, train it by making it work.
At the same time, don’t avoid every mental ‘germ’ in the hopes of avoiding illness. The only way to truly develop your mental immunity is to expose yourself and others to the real world, which is full of amazing wonder and also terrifying sadness. Gently, regularly and with great variation, you must expose yourself and overcome these small thoughts and build an immune system and mental health that will see you in good stead through every situation you might find yourself in for your whole life. Don’t spread mental disease by overloading people’s eyes, ears and brains with negativity, doubt and deprecation. Build the immunity of yourself and everyone you know by balancing the negative with the antibiotic properties of purpose, gratitude, love and support.
Be real, be healthy and of course, Just Be Nice.
Do you remember being a child, and getting something from your parents, only to swiftly be followed up with a “Say Thank You”.
I remember always thinking… I was going to say it! Now it doesn’t mean anything, because you’ve told me to do it.
Have you ever seen someone on the street rattling a tin for a charity, or trying to sign people up to some cause, and think, “I already do things for several other causes, but now I feel awkward saying I’m not interested because I already picked the things I help with”.
That is how I feel about this trend of starting a hashtag, or a ‘tag some friends’ post that has to be a ‘call to action’ or that we have to share to ‘raise awareness’ and usually we have to post it with some kind of video of ourselves or something where we ask everyone else to do something whether or not we actually do the thing ourselves.
There is a brilliant quote from Tolstoy that reads “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
To make change, you have to make change. Make, the verb. Making is a doing word. To make change, is not to tell everyone else to do something for someone else, it is to lead by example.
You might not get as many likes on Facebook, you might not get as many encouraging comments on social media, but if you actually live your life by example, you will most certainly have a much bigger impact than simply asking everyone else to go and do something. “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”, ask yourself, if I have just learned a thing today, am I really qualified to then tell everyone else to do it? If I have just lifted weights for the first time, should I then go out and tell everyone that they should now go out and lift weights?
We see these things take off on social media based on inaccurate statistics sometimes. I understand that you would like to do some good, but if you can’t take the time to even check the facts of the cause you are talking about, how can you tell me to care about it as well? How much actual ‘care’ is involved in those instances.
There are so many things that are worth discussing, many with equal merit. People have thousands of diseases that need cures, there are so many levels of disadvantage, homelessness, addiction, people who just struggle in day to day life, people have internal mental battles with depression and anxiety. Sometimes people just have shitty days.
Starting with appreciating your own life, you can open up many opportunities to learn about the struggles of others. Once you are aware of the struggles, you can make a decision to DO something about the struggles you feel comfortable with helping.
Exactly zero percent of the conversations that I have had in my life that have made a difference have come from a post with a hashtag in it. The conversations come from people who LIVE the lives of good and caring people all the time. The amazing thing about making a difference too is not in the questions we ask, but in the way that we listen. The real change in how we look at helping should come from listening, understanding and educating.
Complexity and noise are barriers to understanding. Additional duplications of causes or outcomes create this barrier, in the same way that duplications of charities, create complexity and noise that hinder understanding.
RUOK Day is a great example, and the original educational opportunity through social media, for understanding how to approach conversations with people struggling with mental health issues. #RUOK still exists, and the organisation exists to educate people on how to have effective conversations and listen to people who might need a friendly ear.
For people who really care about improving the quality of that conversation, let’s not compete. Let’s not confuse the message. Let’s not create more unnecessary noise, rather enhance the message which already exists. Listen. Be there. Be there offline and online. Be there for people in any capacity you can.
Look past awareness as the sole outcome of what you are trying to achieve, awareness is nothing without action that supports the people in need. With that in mind, make sure that you are taking the action that you are asking others to do. A great example of that is Jamie Milne, running to raise awareness for Alzheimers Australia, off the back of raising much needed funds for their research! Awareness becomes the by-product of the action that actually makes a difference.
Educate people and allow them to make their own choices about where they would like to help, and what they are comfortable with. Some people will want to help animals, some will be passionate about race relations, others, particular diseases that have affected their families.
Understand that effecting lasting change is a long term process, that doesn’t need something to go viral so that it is in everyone’s consciousness for a brief second only to disappear once we have shared a post. Give people space and information over time to learn to care about the things you care about.
Try share more about what others are doing, rather than demand that they do the things you are doing. Focusing on the good work that other people do is a great way to encourage people to keep on doing it! Hashtags are a great way to spread information, but use them wisely. Take some care to care. Check the facts, do some investigation, make sure if you are going to ask people to do something, that you have at least made sure that you actually know why.
Put some time in. Authority is built by expertise and effort. You might ‘care’ the same as someone who has been doing something a long time, but you will not have the same authority as they do. If you see an issue, educate yourself, put some time in.
Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world” – not “Make the hashtag that you want everyone to use when referring to a change that you’d like to see in the world”.
Start with you. Start with your actions. Start by Just Being Nice.
A few months ago I had the privilege of speaking with Ronsley Vaz about the Just Be Nice Project. It's one of the better chats I think I've had about the whats and why's of the JBNProject!
If you've got some time, check it out here!
Big thanks to Ronsley for having me too, subscribe to the podcast and keep an eye on all the great things this bloke is up to!
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports