“FROM ONE UNGUARDED MOMENT” by Judge Jim Gray 05/25/08
“One Unguarded Moment - A Lifetime of Regret.” How often have you seen or heard about an example of that situation?
In the heat of the moment all of us have done some thoughtless, harmful and even dangerous things. Some of us have been fortunate to have escaped our behavior without many adverse consequences, and others have emerged with only a bit of embarrassment. But all too often many of these spur-of-the-moment explosions have resulted in injuries to others, and the loss of friends, family and jobs. And they have even resulted in prison sentences.
The areas for abuse include anger, with all of its dangers and potentially devastating consequences; alcohol and other drug abuse; and spousal and child abuse and other domestic violence. As individuals and as a society we must be aware of the warning signs of trouble, and be prepared to step in as much as possible to head them off both for ourselves and for others.
Once people who have been brought into the court system have been identified with problems in these areas, I am proud to say that we are doing a reasonably effective job in dealing with them. But the main purpose of today’s column is to talk with you about the measures being taken today by the Marine Corps to head off these problems before they occur.
With the Marines the dangerous situations discussed above are often combined with combat stress as well as long and frequent assignments in combat areas, so the problems both for the returning troops as well as their families can be seriously compounded. Fortunately, under the leadership of Judge Pamela Iles, the Family Violence Project has joined forces with the Orange County Superior Court and the Marine Corps to institute day-long learning seminars that are entitled “Heroes and Healthy Families.”
These seminars show both the warriors and their families how to recognize the signs of stress and their related consequences, and also provide all of them with the tools to reduce or even neutralize those pressures. By doing this the Marine Corps is supporting its warriors and their families in a safe return, as they say - “all the way home.”
Among other things, these seminars drive home the reality that it is always wrong for an adult to hit a child. Similarly, it is wrong for a man to hit a woman, and, of course, for a woman to hit a man. But if that abuse has occurred once without being confronted, it almost certainly will happen again. So it must be addressed - formally and promptly.
Anger management classes really help in this regard. The aggressors can be taught to take “time outs” when they feel themselves losing control, and the family members can be taught to allow the aggressors some space and time in order to regain their equilibrium.
But just as importantly, the people being battered should have a private escape plan - “just in case.” That means that all adults who are at risk to be victims of this abuse should have their own personal checking account, even if there is little money in it. They should also have a personal bank safe deposit box that contains their important personal papers and their valuables, including a spare set of house and car keys.
If your partner’s behavior is abusive, you must understand that you can and probably should leave until that behavior is addressed and corrected. Have a packed bag at the ready in a safe place that contains a change of clothes for yourself and your children. Furthermore you should tell someone you trust the straightforward truth about your situation. And do not be hesitant to tell that person that sometime with short notice you might be needing a ride, some help with your children, or even a place to stay.
Domestic violence can have a significant harmful effect upon children, and along the way it almost always increases their feelings of anger, fear, guilt, shame, confusion and helplessness. It is also a fact that children over the age of five have a distinct tendency to identify with the aggressors and to lose respect for and attachment to the victims. The children also tend to develop a tolerance for violence, which results in an inclination to perpetuate that violent behavior when they eventually have families of their own.
The seminars also provide useful pointers on reducing the stresses that can result in domestic abuse. One of the most effective points is developing the ability to be an effective listener. Some of the tips to developing this skill are to maintain eye contact when your partner is sharing his or her feelings with you; to nod, smile and provide other acknowledgements of listening and understanding about what your partner is saying; and to ask respectful clarifying questions about the subject at hand. But throughout all of this, resist being defensive and trying to problem solve. And you should also be aware that understanding what your partner is saying is not the same thing as agreeing with it. Finally, remember that listening is not the same thing as waiting to talk!
The bottom line is that abusive behavior will seldom get better unless it is addressed, and the longer it is allowed to continue the more likely it will be to result in long-range problems for everyone involved.
The Marine Corps recognizes these realities, and it has implemented these seminars in furtherance of its proud tradition of taking care of its own. In my view, the Corps should be commended and even honored for that tradition. So I hope that the rest of us can learn from the preventive steps being taken by the Marines, and in that way we can more effectively take care of our own as well. For more information about this great program, please visit HeroesAndHealthyFamilies.com.
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001) and Wearing The Robe - The Art And Responsibilities of Judging In Today's Courts, has a blog at http://judgejamesgray.blogspot.com/. http://www.judgejimgray.com, and can be contacted at www.judgejimgray.com.