Crime Victims and Spirituality

Sliding Otter News

April 30, 2010

Volume 2, Issue 10

~Your trauma is not who you are.
It is something that was done to you or happened to you~

Carol Anika Theill

Gull in Flight

Gull in Flight

What is spirituality? I read somewhere that defining spirituality is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. I have seen many definitions and found all of them wanting until I met Manny Fortes, a chemical dependency counselor some of you might remember. He defined spirituality as “awakening to the goodness and joy for which you were created.”

Goodness and joy are probably far from the mind of a recent crime victim. More prominent are anger, revenge, justice and feelings of betrayal. We don’t appreciate people trying to help us feel better. Nor do we turn to God initially for comfort. Many of us become angry at God: “Why did You do this? Why did you let this happen? Where were You when I needed You?

We try to make sense of it from God’s point of view as if we could read God’s mind. Just because we try to think logically, we expect God to be logical too. If we can’t figure it out, there must be something wrong with God. We look for someone to blame. God joins the usual suspects: society, people in general, our police system and the criminal justice system.

Some of us wallow in self pity for years, further victimizing ourselves in addition to what has already been done to us. This doesn’t make much sense when we think about it, does it? What are our alternatives? While sadness, anger and fear are common first reactions, do we want to spend the rest of our lives caught in these emotions. Given a choice, most of us do not.

What else can we do? Perhaps not much alone. We can take steps to prevent further trauma by learning how to protect ourselves and seeking legal or police protection. But then what? The rest of the work to be done is inside us. In addition to physical trauma, our spirit has most likely been damages as well. What can we do about that?

Spiritually, we have a choice of wrestling with God over who is to blame for our misfortune or asking God for help getting on with our lives. Approaching God alone can be difficult in such troubling times. Friends or clergy who understand our spirituality can help in our quest toward a spiritual resolution of our feelings with God.

We can start by asking God to help us release our feelings of anger, revenge and self pity. Next we can ask God to help us focus on the present rather than on the past. We don’t have the physical, mental or spiritual energy to live in the past as well as in the present. We can’t do anything about the past but there is plenty we can do about right now. Focus on your goodness and joy will follow.

Spiritual Life Lessons

  • Ask God to help you stay in the now.
  • Ask God’s help with forgiveness (letting go).
  • Find friends or clergy to help you keep going.
  • Help someone else who is struggling with their life.
  • List what is good about you and read it every day.


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Chats with Calliope- A Musical Weekend

St Michael's Cave- Gibraltar

St. Michael's Cave- Gibraltar

JOE: Good afternoon Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good afternoon Joe. I expected to hear from you this morning.
JOE: I expected to contact you as well. However my modem died and I just now got my computer operational again.
CALLIOPE: I see.  How was your weekend?
JOE: Friday night was the Open Reading With Norm Davis.
CALLIOPE: How did that go?
JOE: Good, but not as I expected. Open readings are a new thing in Batavia. As it turned out, Norm did most of the reading which seemed fine with everyone.
CALLIOPE: Any other doings this weekend?
JOE: Bobby Milatello and his quartet put on a great concert at Genesee Community College on Saturday.  On Sunday I went to a joint choral concert with the Genesee Chorale and the Middleport Choir. Over a hundred voices in all. A great arts weekend.
CALLIOPE: Glad you enjoyed it.
JOE: I have a special edition of Sliding Otter News for you at the end of the week. Stay tuned.

Sliding Otter News: Carrots, Sticks and the Human Condition

Aquinnah Lighthouse

Aquinnah Lighthouse

~Every man carries within him the entire form of our human condition.~

Michel de Montaigne

Recent musings about crime, its perpetrators and its victims rekindled my lifelong speculation about why people do what they do. The simplest explanation is that people do what rewards them and avoid what punishes them.

That seems simple enough. Maybe too simple. Rewards and punishments can be immediate, down the road or far in the future. Sometimes rewards and punishments compete like an angel and and imp sitting on our shoulders whispering contradictory advice in our ears. Sometimes we don’t listen to either one but act on our feelings of the moment. As the king in The King and I said, “Is a puzzlement.”

What about the carrot and the stick? One account has a man enticing his reluctant donkey to pull a cart by dangling a carrot tied to a string before it. Another account has the carrot and the stick representing reward and punishment as ways to motivate behavior.

I worked as a psychologist for many years and never arrived at a satisfactory explanation for why people do what they do. I saw what people did and heard their explanations but often felt as puzzled as the king of Siam.

What if I just try to understand myself? What makes me tick? As long as I can remember, I have wanted to help other people. I don’t know why but perhaps it has to do with the many kind people who loved and cared for me as I grew up.

Despite their example, I also grew up in a religious environment heavy with sin and guilt, adding a fear layer to my life outlook. Over the years I developed a more balanced sense of spirituality. Now I seek to act responsibly, live harmoniously with those around me and help those I can when our paths intertwine.

I have never landed in jail or even come close. Still, I have not always followed my own life principles. There were times I could have made better choices instead of following my impulses. Yet I keep trying. I have yet to meet anyone who has not at times strayed from what they knew was the best option for them.

Should I give everyone the benefit of the doubt as I do with myself? I would like to but I have come to realize there are people who have no moral compass or at least none the rest of us would recognize.

What are we to make of such people? Some felons don’t care who they inconvenience or even kill in their attempts to satisfy their own needs. Terrorists seem motivated by revenge or a wish to eliminate from the earth those who do not think as they do. Sticks and carrots have no meaning for them. That remains a mystery to me.

Life Lab Lessons

  • List your values.
  • How well does your life reflect what you believe?
  • How do you react when people don’t behave as you would like?
  • Is there a better way for you to react?
  • Would understanding others make this easier?

Happy Poetry Month

St. Thomas Sunrise

St. Thomas Sunrise

~A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language~ W.H. Auden

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. Glad you remembered.
JOE: How could I forget that you are the muse of epic poetry and that this is National Poetry Month?
CALLIOPE: Bravo. What are you doing to celebrate my month?
JOE: I have never been much of a poet, but I did organize an open reading at GO ART! this Friday in honor of you and your sister muses. Norm Davis, editor of Hazmat Review and a poet, will host the event.
CALLIOPE: Tell me more.
JOE: Area poets are invited share their work with others seeking poetic inspiration.
CALLIOPE: Tell me about Auden’s quote.
JOE: I chose it because I don’t feel I have the patience to concentrate fully on poetry, I do appreciate the care poets take with their words. That much has been an inspiration to me.
CALLIOPE: Glad we could brighten your life a little.
JOE: Thank you. Talk with you later.

Technology vs. Creativity

Cleaning the Pool

Cleaning the Pool

JOE: Good afternoon Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good afternoon Joe. I was beginning to fear i would not see you today.
JOE: I woke up in a technological snafu. Not only was my laptop refusing to connect to the Internet, so was my desktop. With remote assistance and considerable fiddling, everything is back in working order. I also had to retrieve my connection to my printer, or I should say Jay did. I watched as he manipulated my computer remotely until it behaved.
CALLIOPE: So I guess you are finally back on line.
JOE: You noticed. But it took until 1 pm to do so and by then I was tired of computers and decided to take a bike ride to get some errands done. Now that I am back, I don’t have much creative energy left. But I did feel compelled to touch base with you.
CALLIOPE: Anything planned for the rest of the day?
JOE: I picked up Ian McEwan’ book, his new novel about environmental concerns.
CALLIOPE: That should keep you busy for a while.
JOE: I hope so. Talk with you Friday.

Reconsidering The Crime of Punishment

Tower of London

Tower of London

~The danger is that, instead of understanding, we only seek to quell~
Karl Menninger

Should we lock up criminals so they can’t offend again? Should we penalize them so they learn from their mistakes? Should we punish them to make up for what they did to others? Carl Menninger considered these and other questions when he took stock of the criminal justice system, psychiatry and our national response to crime and criminals in 1966.

His book, The Crime of Punishment, was recently republished. Has anything changed since 1966? In some ways, yes. Prisons have been modernized. Alternatives to incarceration have appeared. Specialized courts seek to understand the needs of the chemically addicted, the mentally ill and veterans among others. But do we know any more about crime and criminals than we did in the nineteen sixties?

Despite his exhaustive treatment of the topic, Menninger admitted that he was not capable of saying what motivated criminal acts and doubted whether anyone else could either. When asked, the best criminals can manage is, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

If we don’t know what motivates crime, how can we prevent or minimize it? A good question but one which does not trouble most of us. As a society, we think more about the deeds than those who commit them. We quickly turn our thoughts to the best punishment for each crime.

But what does punishment accomplish? We hope to deter future crime by the threat of punishment. We hope convicts will mend their ways. We hope victims will feel vindicated. Unfortunately none of these seems to happen as a result of the noble efforts of our criminal justice system on our behalf.

If punishment does not work, what does? Maybe we need to return to where crime begins, in the human mind. What happens in the minds of criminals remains largely a mystery, even to themselves. We do have some hints though.

We know that many criminals feel powerless, hopeless and frustrated. They have very little sense of personal value. Crime, particularly the violent type, gives criminals at least a fleeting sense of power and control in their lives. For a few minutes they feel competent. Long term consequences don’t enter the picture since the future is usually bleak for them anyway.

I don’t suggest that we excuse criminals’ actions due to their shortcomings or release them from responsibility for their actions. But crushing their spirit only increases their tendency toward continued violence. Killing them only makes us a more violent society.

We love to hate those who get caught committing crimes. We see it a little differently if we know the person involved, or if by some chance it is us. We make allowances for their life situation or difficulties. Specialized courts for certain populations have lowered recidivism rates considerably among these groups. Perhaps understanding the circumstances of other criminals can reduce our overall crime rate.

Life Lab Lessons

  • What keeps you within legal boundaries?
  • What would push you over the edge?
  • Do you seek vengeance for being wronged?
  • What does it do to your spirit?
  • Try letting go and living in the present.

Victims and Criminals

Sunrise in San Juan

Sunrise in San Juan

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. You’re up an at ’em early today.
JOE: I am. Despite predictions of gloom and even snow, a beautiful sky is unfolding as I type.
CALLIOPE: The joys of nature. What’s new.
JOE: As you know, I wrote an article about victim spirituality. This week’s newsletter which I will share with you soon was about reconsidering The Crime of Punishment by Karl Menninger.
CALLIOPE: I can’t wait to read it.
JOE: I got to thinking about both pieces and how they fit into my work at GO ART!
CALLIOPE: And?
JOE: I started working on a project idea for an art show which would feature art of victims and criminals in the same exhibit.
CALLIOPE: What would be the point?
JOE: To show the humanity of both and make them real in people’s minds. I’ll keep you posted.