relationships – reason & irrationality

In the immediate aftermath of the Ray Rice imbroglio, one of the predominant questions popping up on social media, in newspaper op-ed commentaries, in casual conversations among friends and co-workers, in the offices of mental health professionals, social workers, and other caregivers, stated in so many words and depending on the speaker, with tones (whether accented or muted) of incredulity, is this: How could Janay Rice (née Palmer) rise so swiftly to the defense of her abusive husband, even to the point of offering an apology for her part in their altercation in which she was knocked unconscious?

In August, the shooting and killing of Michael Brown sparked afresh public conflagrations about race. In that same month, the death of actor Robin Williams stirred anew communal conversations about mental illness. So, now, widespread renewed considerations about domestic violence. As with race and mental illness, domestic violence is a labyrinthine area of human existence, in its native complexity heedless of our desire, our need for facile answers or simple solutions.

That said, nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry, listening with care to the chapters and verses of the life stories of now countless folk, and over 20 years of personal labor with competent and compassionate therapists, I have discerned for myself a simply-stated answer to a simply-stated question (both confessedly laden with inherent complications beyond the telling and layered with density that makes no ready room for the elucidation of comprehension).

Question: Why do people remain together in relationship?

Answer: Their primary needs are being met.

Some of our human needs, our fundamental desires and drives, both healthy and life-giving and unhealthy and soul-stealing, are conscious. Most, I daresay, at least in my experience of and learning about myself, are unconscious. But whatever they are, I believe that we are beholden and bound to those who fulfill them, which, in the most general way, may begin to scratch the bare surface of explaining why Mrs. Rice can and will defend Mr. Rice to the nth degree.

the (p)rice is wrong

Today, TMZ released the video of Ray Rice’s attack on his then fiancé, now wife, Janay Palmer, rendering her unconscious. The reaction was swift – if, indeed, swift can be an appropriate term given the passage of months since the February altercation.

At the time of the incident, both Mr. Rice and Ms. Palmer were arrested and charged with simple assault. They were released and the charges against Ms. Palmer dropped. Subsequently, Mr. Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges. Then, rejecting a plea deal, he applied for and was granted entry into an intervention program, thereby avoiding trial. Later, he, a star running back for the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens, was suspended for the first two regular season games. A public outcry ensued, eventually leading to the NFL’s promulgation of a sterner domestic violence policy.

Then, the video. Within spare hours of its airing, the Ravens voided Mr. Rice’s contract and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

I do not condemn Mr. Rice as a person, a fellow human being. I have not the power and authority or the honesty and humility to render fair judgment on the state of the health of his soul.

I do denounce his act of brutality and the contextual circumstances – a high-profile, mega-billion dollar professional sport predicated on the enactment for expressed purposes of entertainment of so-called controlled mayhem and our national, global obsession with money and celebrity that encourages the fabrication of indulgent rules and their unequal application depending on the magnitude of the stardom of the offender – that, in combination, for the greater part of a year, seemed to promote the condoning of the unconscionable.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, annually an estimated 1.3 million women, numbering 85% of all domestic violence victims, suffer physical assault by an intimate partner, historically women often are abused by those known to them, and a preponderance of domestic violence cases never are reported to legal authorities.

“If the Ray Rice case,” one news commentator energetically declared, “makes us all more mindful of the problem of domestic violence, then this will have served a purpose.” Though almost too predictably tepid a response, I agree.

Still, as the societal price of ignoring domestic violence is, has been, and remains a cost far too great to bear, I, one who is as influenced as Mr. Rice by our cultural trends toward excess and limited personal accountability, am given to examine my soul to search out, seeking to identify and quell, whatever propensities I have for any form of abusive behavior. If I henceforth daily follow through on my intention, then the Ray Rice case will have served a good and personal purpose.