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What Is Lateral Violence?

We define Lateral Violence as follows:

Lateral Violence occurs within marginalized groups where members strike out at each other as a result of being oppressed. The oppressed become the oppressors of themselves and each other. Common behaviors that prevent positive change from occurring include gossip, sabotage, backstabbing and shunning. 

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First of all I want to recognize that Lateral Violence is a global issue. It is happening all over the world. Where people live together and a hierarchy exists there is usually a misuse of power. This is where Lateral Violence lives. Of course, there is a higher incidence of Lateral Violence in First Nations communities because historically we have been oppressed and pushed to the margins. We have been disempowered. Resources are scarce. Lack of power and lack of resources automatically result in a survival instinct whereby we take power in unskillful and often selfish ways. Today, even though there are improvements we perpetuate the cycle in our relationships with each other. Through the subtle and sometimes not so subtle use of words and actions we cause harm to each other. Our ability to communicate our beliefs, feelings, needs, and wants is powerful. For those of us who are able we have more influence. The reasons some are able and some are not vary. Some of us are just more comfortable or feel more supported. We will explore this dynamic more under the section called Rank and Privilege.

In First Nations communities Lateral Violence is a learned behavior that can be unlearned. There was a time when we knew exactly how to be in relationship together but since contact and due to a plethora of difficult and often disempowering events in history we have lost touch with the wisdom inherently contained in indigenous ways, the ways of our Ancestors. Although there seems to be a resurrection of culture we still see a misuse of power and a misalignment with the ways that sustained us throughout history.

In the workshop you will come to understand power in a new way. Power is not a bad thing and each and everyone one of us has a unique type of power. If we use it consciously it can be the key to restoring healthy communication and relationships within our communities.

Although I have created a definition we encourage you to explore and define Lateral Violence for yourself. Only you can say what you experience as disempowering. What’s more important is that once you begin to identify behaviors that are disempowering you can then choose to respond in a way that is powerful and transformational. It is often those times when we have lost our voice that we feel a loss of power. We are going along in life feeling pretty good and someone or something happens. We get knocked off course; we forget who we are and all that we know in that moment. We later wonder why we didn’t stand up for ourselves or why we lost our cool and became emotional or angry.

What happens next? When we lose our voice it affects how feel about ourselves and…. if we are not able to find our voice in that particular situation or with that particular person we tend to act out or strike out laterally. Unskillful behaviors come out sideways. “if I can’t talk to you, then I’ll talk about you instead”, is often the case. The cycle is self-perpetuating and can only be transformed by changing our own behavior first.

So, if we are to begin to transform this thing we call Lateral Violence that has become so normalized in our communities then we must first look to ourselves. To the places within that are fearful or feel a sense of shame. Those parts of us that have been temporarily quieted or have perhaps acted out in ways that are harmful to self and others. We must forge a new relationship with ourselves first and then we can look to healing our relationships with those around us.
Lateral Violence includes any acts that silence, dis-empowers, pushes to the margin, casts doubt, oppresses, controls, or manipulates.

We leave the rest to you. Begin to look at yourself and ask “where are the places I’m afraid to take a stand for myself and as for what I need or want?”.

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