When I was asked to speak at a local event in Streatham on peace and young people, I was delighted. Streatham means a lot to me as I grew up near Streatham Common and have many happy memories there, both at St Andrew’s school and then Bishop Thomas Grant. More than that, helping young people achieve their potential has always been a passion of mine.
So here we are at the Little Big Peace week. Peace is a funny kind of concept. Peace can mean calm, inner contentment and also just quietness. I can honestly say that when I was a teenager, I don’t think I had really actively given thought to peace. Like most, I probably associated it with wars rather than on a smaller scale. But having two younger sisters with all of us living in one room and being the eldest, I guess without even knowing it, I automatically became the mediator and the peace-maker in our household.
I am sure that if asked, my friends and family would say that I am a calm and measured person but, embarrassed as I am, even I have hit someone in anger. Yes, me, slight in frame, 5 foot 3 inches and normally wouldn’t say boo to a goose. I was 19 years old in the Dominican Republic with my two younger sisters in a merengue bar. My youngest sister, then aged 14 had a guy dancing with her who I thought was a getting a bit too fresh. So my sisterly protective instinct kicked in, I walked up to the guy and gave him a big thump on the shoulder accompanied by a loud holler ‘get off my sister’.
So my point is that in the right situation and when emotions are running high, all of us have the potential to explode and do things which are normally out of character. But I am glad that I haven’t been in another situation like that and am indeed lucky it didn’t escalate. And this is exactly where things can get out of hand and consequences can be significant and damaging.
Consequences of violence are not just physical and emotional impacts for the individuals involved but can be damaging to families and the wider communities. In the most extreme cases, this can be the loss of a loved one. In less extreme cases, violence can lead to a general sense of fear, a lack of community and worst of all, possible retaliation, which then perpetuates the cycle.
I don’t believe that any of us are born violent. It is our situation and circumstances that might make us more or less so. But at the end of the day, we all have a choice and will have to live with the consequences of the choices we make. It is about taking responsibility for our actions. Or as I like to see it ‘response-ability’. We all have the ability to respond. No matter what someone has done to us or how provoking they have been, we can always choose to be the peace-maker and restore calm to a volatile situation.
Cheryl Mendes, London, 17th Sept 2012