jump to navigation


Posted by wmmbb in Peace.

Belinda Neal is the Federal Member for Robertson on the Central Coast of New South Wales and the wife of the NSW Education Minister. Apparently, last Friday she was at a restaurant/night club when she objected to being moved from her table and allegedly threatened and verbally abused the staff when she was asked to move tables. Such a trivial request one would assume. The prima facie evidence that Ms Neal was less sober than she admits since her husband, whose drivers licence was under a cloud for drink driving, drove their car home.

Now it seems as ABC Online reports that the Prime Minister has taken time out from his visit to Japan to talk to her by telephone. She now concedes that she has an anger management problem and she is going to seek psychological counselling. The need for such a course was apparently insisted upon by the Prime Minister for an apparent “pattern of unacceptable behavior”. This response by the Prime Minister seems to me to be both right and politically prudent.

It is interesting to me how this issue of truthfulness keeping cropping up. Ms Neal is insistent that she has told the truth about the incident. She told reporters:

“I’ve clearly said that I know what happened, what I said was the truth, I stand by that,” she said.

“But notwithstanding, who is telling the truth or not, it’s important of course that where there are differences of opinion, it’s important to be able to resolve those in a way that doesn’t make the conflict any worse.”

“I have not threatened anyone else’s job and I can say that categorically. I’ve said that previously I did not swear, did not threaten anyone’s job.”

“Certainly any suggestion that did take place is just wrong.”

Bullying is not acceptable by anybody in any situation, and not by members of Parliament who are responsible to personal staff. Whatever, the truth of the case, it is indicative of the violence that is more widespread in social situations than we usually give credit. Part of the problem is the resort to violence as a way of solving problems. As a general rule we do not practice restorative justice tending to suggest that the problem always lies with the individual that it does not have a social dimension as in situational violence. The retributive system of punishment often denies people the opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation so they can feel restored to be a worthwhile, valuable and contributing part of a human community. I am sceptical about the successfulness of the prison system, although it is one of the many areas of society that I have no knowledge.

Compassion not Combat” © Leni Fried, Titanium Arts

My hypothesis is that a major cause of violence, other than overt violence with the object of domination and implicit structural and cultural violence, is the absence or denial of love (as in unconditional positive regard, respect or acknowledgment of fundamental specie needs). This hypothesis does not originate with me and is supported by evidence. This hypothesis is implicit in the importance placed on the relationship between parents and child. A favorite method of punishment, especially in institutional settings, symbolized by the prison cell, is to separate the person from the surrounding social and natural environment.

Still I am sceptical about counselling in general, including anger management. Penn and Teller, with some reason, share the scepticism. Warning: There is gratuitous violence, which you might wish to avoid. Keep in mind that even viewing violence has an effect because that is the way our neurons work, as in mirror neurons:

Perhaps the answer is not anger management but violence management, and that would including the speech included in these videos. One important difference is that violence management is a social and political question that includes institutional and organizational practices, the treatment of people in the justice system, and the resort to war and other forms of overt and implicit violence. We might think about what is involved in practicing nonviolence. I should also say that it is the opinion of one leading expert in this field that this involves spiritual practice. How radical is that? How can that be scientific? What historical evidence exists for the proposition?

Hopefully, Ms Neal will get the right counselling and her program will work for her so that she becomes a better member of the House of Representatives. Perhaps she might make the connection between anger and violence.


ABC Online has a follow up report in which a parliamentary colleague of Ms Neal runs the case that she was being picked out because she was female. I made comment there – which of course will not be read – that I thought could be repeated here:

In my view this behavior is symptomatic of the prevalence of violence in our society. A previous commenter alluded to this with the observation (although not in these words) that bullies often get to the top.

None of this should be surprising if we stand back and look at how our institutions and organizations operate. Of course, violence need not be overt or, indeed public. (I will leave to the reader to supply a definition of violence.)

The hypocrisy is that individual miscreants, rightly or wrongly, are identified and punished, while the overriding operating principle remains intact and sacrosanct.


In responding to Lorenn Walker’s comment I caught up in a flow of association, not so much original notions but setting out the connections as I understand them to be.

One problem, as I see it, it that at a fundamental, “unconscious” level, nonviolence is rejected. The radical, fundamental option is to reject violence as a last resort, or any resort in principle. In other words, it is better no to be angry in the first place, and if there, is just cause for anger to follow the example of Martin Luther King and channel that energy in positive ways. The surprising thing is this type can be demonstrated on a personal level, and perhaps on a social level.

It seems to me that the decent thing to do is give people the opportunity to express sorry for what they have done and for their expression of sorrow to be accepted as genuine by those who are affected, even if punishment is deemed necessary.

The assumption is that punishment will act as detergent, and that negative conditioning will produce positive learning. When such assumptions are exposed and examined, they become more questionable.

Furthermore (since I am on a roll here), it seems to me that the “law and order” campaigns that seem to get top of the mind positioning in elections can be seen as a form of unanimous violence with designated others as scapegoats arising from fear and uncertainty in the minds of a significant number of people.

Resistance of fear and intimidation is hard enough in the direct case, but more difficult by orders of magnitude when it is socially and politically induced. 911 can be understood as an example. I have to admit that I got caught up in the fear and anxiety as well. I remember looking up in the sky and thinking there are planes up there and they could be flown into my building. Then I rationalized they would they would have to hit the other building first. The fact that harmful actions are happening to other people does not mean they cease concern us. For example, the Iraqi people are suffering occupation and bombing in various forms death and suffering even as we have comparative safety from violence.


ABC News Online reports that Della Boscha has been stood down as Education Minister in NSW by Premier Iemma. It turns out that Della wrote the apology that the Club Manager signed. It seems that at least we now have an effective Opposition in NSW, even as the Government is falling apart of trivial – or not so – matters.

Adele Horin, in The Sydney Morning Herald, argues the problem of excessive is as widespread as I allege, but without an underlying analysis while suggesting that women are more likely be targeted for this behavior than men.



1. Lorenn Walker - June 13, 2008

Hey, thanks! I like your ideas! I agree that if we practiced restorative justice and focused on healing after wrongdoing occurs we would have less violence. For the last couple years I have been working with prisons doing restorative justice, which has been incredible. Not only have the incarcerated individuals here in Hawai‘i who’ve had what we call Restorative Circles, a reentry planning process involving families who’re often victims, but I think that the community too, including the people providing the program, some prison staff and the system, has been transformed from the process and program. There is a huge capacity for healing, hope, optimism and compassion in humans and as we create more opportunities to display these positive values, we will improve not only as individuals, but as communities. Keep up the great work and mahalo again!

Lorenn Walker, J.D., M.P.H.

2. wmmbb - June 13, 2008

Thank you for your comment Lorenn.

The people in the know are aware no doubt of your restorative justice program and others around the world, but most of us are not even aware these experiments are taking place. It is very encouraging that there is evidence of success.

I know that projects have been undertaken here in Australia, and in New South Wales, but I do not know whether they encountered institutional or cultural barriers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: