The National YWCA is promoting a series of activities and events across the US October 15th–19th. The focus is on ending gender-based violence. Well before looking into the activities and posted talking points for the initiative, I began to look inward. I realized could spend the entire week without ever leaving home reflecting on my actions. I might separate thoughts, words, actions and behaviors into two categories: violence provoking or compassion promoting.

This thought was both revealing and scary. As a child, I lived in an atmosphere of uncertainty. I could rarely determine if I was safe…safe from bullying, isolation and violence, whether perceived or real. I could not tell whether I was wanted by my family or if I truly belonged. My best defense mechanism as a four-year old was to close my eyes, thinking if I did so, I could hide from the assault I imagined was coming my way.

Sometimes the violence was verbal. Sometimes it came as a certain tone of voice or a particular stance or an admonishing finger or fist. Sometimes it was physical. It happened often enough that I was continually thrown off guard as to what was real and what was just a threat. I became a shy boy, always hoping that this time would be different, but wary at the same time.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting and healing in the decades since then. I take a gentle approach in my interactions with others and with myself. But sometimes I’m still triggered by someone’s loud manner or sharp tone, including my own.

The violence I experienced was both gender-based and child-directed. The seeds of homophobia were there as well, although I could not see the connection then. And there was classism, the result of living in a family with less than enough financial resource.

Violence is such a loaded term. Starting from within, I realize what is required to live without violence, for without something to replace it, the vacuum is replenished by yet more violence. What I most needed and deserved was to be loved. Today I recognize that if I am not responding from a place of love and compassion, I am adding to the violence that is always in and around me. What I do with that awareness makes all the difference.

—Steve Jarose