You & Your Family

Our lenses when looking at others: Where is the love?

Where is the love

As someone who has been involved in the cause of ending violence in the family for more than 30 years, I am somewhat gratified to see and hear of more people speaking out against toxic masculinity. This version of masculinity— the way some men think about themselves, their roles, values, behaviour and, more importantly, how they relate to women—is toxic or harmful to others, the community and themselves. Examples of such beliefs and behaviour include being domineering, displaying homophobia, using aggression over reason and compromise, not acknowledging vulnerabilities or mistakes and not asking for assistance, to name a few. Toxic masculinity is one major reason for the domination and abuse of women in families. But I remain measured when I see others speak out against this toxic behaviour. My hesitation is twofold.

Firstly, much as I am convinced that thinking of oneself as better or superior to another is arrogant and potentially harmful, reducing the cause of gender-based violence to an individual’s culture and upbringing ignores many other contributory factors. Such a narrow focus may not help reduce or end domestic abuse.

Secondly, this perspective may run the risk of polarising the issue. For example, if toxic masculinity is the problem, then one assumes that positive masculinity would be the answer. However, defining positive masculinity can be problematic. Is it to be based solely on the opposite of what toxic masculinity is or should it model itself after feminist traits?

Thankfully, the social ill of violence against women, a serious global issue affecting one in three women in their lifetimes, is no longer cast in terms of “men are the problem”. The early feminists were right in addressing social structures and practices that privilege men over women solely because of their gender. Today’s focus on one type of masculinity as being problematic is a refinement of looking at the source of the problem.

However, dividing people into groups of good and bad may blind us to the fact that within each group or even sub- group, there is the capacity for both good and bad. For example, a person who displays aggression and violence may also be supportive and not use violence to manipulate. Depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we can choose to behave compassionately or to be unkind and selfish.

This is not to say that we are victims of our circumstances. Of course, a person’s upbringing and the violence he may have experienced while growing up are factors that may increase the propensity to use more aggressive ways of relating to others. But propensity does not mean certainty. We each have the capacity, the ability and the responsibility to choose the appropriate path.

In the aftermath of the September 11 Twin Towers terrorist attack, the music group The Black Eyed Peas released the song “Where is the love?” which opens with:

What’s wrong with the world, mama?
People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas
I think the whole world’s addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma.

It then goes on to condemn violence perpetrated by gangs, nations against nations and against various internal communities. It repeatedly asks, “Where is the love?” and says,

But if you have only love for your own race,
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate, then you’re bound to get irate

Indeed, instead of looking at others for change, we need to recognise that change begins with each one of us. Every one of us has to be careful how we look at those who are different from us—not with eyes that discriminate in a way of judging or condemning them—and how we then behave towards them.

Benny Bong has over 40 years of experience as a therapist, counsellor and trainer. He also conducts regular talks and webinars. Benny has helmed the You & Your Family column for more than 16 years and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.