In the vicious circle of violence

The French original of this text was first published in 1970 (Feuille de route N° 19). Extract from: Gilles Anouil, The Poor are the Church. A conversation with Fr. Joseph Wresinski, Founder of the Fourth World Movement, Twenty-Third Publications 2002, pp. 3-8.

My earliest childhood memories go back to a long hospital ward and my mother shouting at the nun who was supervising us. As a young boy, I suffered from rickets, and had been hospitalized to have my legs straightened.

That day, I had told my mother that the nun had not let me have my parcel brought the previous Sunday. My mother, who obviously had tried hard to collect together a few treats, lost her temper. Immediately she wrenched me from the hands of the nuns and brought me back home.

My legs have remained bowed ever since and throughout my childhood and, especially as a teenager, I was subjected to the ridicule and teasing brought on by this handicap, with the
added embarrassment of a slight limp. Thus, my first memory of contact with other people was that of injustice and prejudice which were to leave their mark for the rest of my life. This would probably also explain my intolerance of runny noses, of crooked legs and of these young bodies already marred which surround me now in emergency housing, in the hovels and in the slums.

My mother shouting at the nun had not surprised me. I was used to shouting. At home, my father shouted all the time. He would beat my older brother much to my mother’s despair, as it was always his head that bore the brunt. He was cursing my mother and we lived continually in fear.

It was only much later, when I was a man, sharing the life of other men like him and of other families like our own, that I understood that my father was a humiliated man. He suffered because he felt he had failed in life, he was ashamed of not being able to give his family
security and happiness.

This is the real evil consequence of extreme poverty. A person cannot live such a humiliated life without reacting. The poor react in the same violent way, nowadays as well as in the past.

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