Respect: Society’s Off-Key Note

Friday. The sun beats down on Montréal. I’m driving west in my car. A hundred souls await my arrival.

On this night, I’m off to give my umpteenth seminar. But this time, the audience will be made up of teenagers. Nerves disrupt my thoughts. When I give a talk, I leave my actress self at home. I wear no mask. There are no costumes, no makeup, no stage directions. I am vulnerable. I open my heart. I am authentic, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

By Ingrid Falaise  File: Domestic Violence

Slowly, I build up my courage. Once again, I’m going to open up the box hiding my deepest self from the world, in order to raise awareness of the horrors caused by the violence that masquerades as love. All eyes are pointed my way. People have disrupted their schedules and traveled to listen to me. Humbly, I think to myself, if I can save one little Ingrid from her daily hell…

Mercy, gratitude, resilience are my watchwords. I repeat them as a yogi would repeat a mantra.

But somehow, this evening seems different. Sadly, nowadays conjugal violence begins at age 14. Really? Oh yes, really. And the cycle is exactly the same: seduction, manipulation, isolation. Crisis, and… a honeymoon. The cycle repeats.

Waiting in the wings, I hear the emcee’s introduction. She recounts my past, how I got to this point, and then, bang… I’ve been introduced. I’m in front of the audience, striding forward, microphone in hand. The crowd is hopped up on teenage testosterone. They shout my name just a bit too loud. Yup, this is very different than my usual audience of world-weary, jaded adults. But the subject remains the same, and my mission hasn’t changed.

The minutes fly by; the words tumble forth, one after another.

I’m blown over by these intense, focused youths who hang on my every word. I spot a single tear slowly sliding down the cheek of a beautiful young brunette in the 3rd row as I recount an event in my past that she has no doubt also experienced. My story is universal, beyond time and place. Tragically.

Pourtant, un bémol. Something was off-key, I think to myself as I drive home afterward. I replay the evening in my mind. And I know that there was some part of it that hit a false note.

On the surface, everything went perfectly. My speech and slide presentation went off without a hitch. The audience members were attentive and welcoming.  There were personal stories, great questions, tears, applause… So what exactly was out of tune?


Some words have a different impact on an older audience. When I describe my long-ago life of abuse, I don’t censor myself. If I understate things, if I show restraint, my message won’t have nearly the same effect. I must remain true to the past, to the verbal abuse that cut me down as much as did the physical shots.

But on this evening, the impact of certain demeaning words wasn’t the same. Hoar, slut, bitch, shrew … There was no reaction, no indignation. Not an eyebrow was raised by these high schoolers. To them, none of it seemed offensive or hurtful.

And turning this over in my mind, I am upset. Upset, and worried.  When I recited those words, spat at me by my long-ago abuser, those teens didn’t even flinch.

Driving eastward back to my humble home, I am in a state of shock. True, I got my message out. It was greeted with love and compassion. The audience learned something about violence disguised as love. But… are they already that immunized to verbal abuse in their young lives?

So from now on, at my seminars, I’m emphasizing one word: Respect. What do I mean by that? Respect yourself as well as others. Violent words eat away at true love.They seep into the very pores of your skin, like a poison. They resonate. They take their toll.

Above all else, we must teach our young people what respect really means. Love without respect is off-key.

SOS Violence Conjugal

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To read the original French version of this article, please click here 


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