In the wake of events such as the Parkland and Sandy Hook school shootings, we often focus on the “Big Bad” that is “Violence”. We point at guns (and other weapons), mental illness and media as the main reasons for violence. But this idea, and the conversation around it, misses the point.
Most of us won’t be in a classroom when a crazed gunman enters. And the majority of us won’t face a militia group armed to the teeth. Nor are we likely to be set upon by a crazed schizophrenic person. However, most of us are the victims and perpetrators of subtler forms of violence on a daily basis; the kind of violence that is the true culprit behind these outrageous attacks.
It’s easy to see mass shootings and domestic abuse in the above definition. Obviously, an AR-15 gunning down a room or a raised fist aimed at an eye socket is ‘behavior intended to establish control’.
However, while the subtler forms of violence are harder to pinpoint, they too fit neatly into this definition. The manipulative ploys of a mother to get her grown child to procreate earlier than the child is ready. The coercive tactics of a wife who ‘asks’ her husband to clean the garage before she’ll get intimate with him. The terror that a father instills in his son to get him to ‘act like a man’. These are all forms of more subtle violences and they fit easily into our established definition.
THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE
In the conversations this country is having on violence, we talk about many issues being the root of violence: mental illness, weapons and even the media we take in. While these things are part of the puzzle, the real root of violence in our society is much deeper than these surface-level influences.
The root of violence, as the definition lines out for us, is an imbalance of power. This starts very early, often in childhood, when our independence and autonomy is repetitively and systematically taken from us. This experience, in the formative years of life, robs us of our own personal power so we come up with ways (often mimicking those early examples) to regain our power.
We find ways to get our needs met through maladaptive behaviors that are meant to assert power over others. The reason these are so hard to see in ourselves, and in others, is because they are so ingrained in our culture and our sense of self.
Taking the example of the father terrorizing his son, we see that rather than letting his son own himself and form ideas around ‘manhood’ that work for his individual sensibilities, the father asserts his power to control the son’s experience. The presumed outcome is t raise a socially-acceptable ‘man’ into the world. What we see, as the result of this tactic, is a society of men who ‘act manly’ and perpetuate the earlier violence through toxic masculinity (ie misogyny, domestic abuse and even rape).
When we trace violence backward, it’s pretty easy to see the roots of where it’s coming from.
SUBTLE FORMS OF VIOLENCE
We’ve touched a little on how violence presents itself but in order to have full awareness of the subtler violence around us, it’s important to have a fuller picture of how violence appears in our culture. (Click on the links to get the definitions for each form.)
This form of violence is one of the most dangerous due to it’s nature of being hidden.
Manipulations can be as subtle as asking a leading question:
"Didn’t you think I would want to see you for Christmas? Maybe the family will start to think that you don’t love us anymore. I’m just worried about how they’ll see you.”
This statement is meant to sound loving and caring. However what it really does is tries to guilt the recipient into acting in a certain way in order to get family approval. The speaker is aiming to establish and maintain control over the listener.
We often think of coercion as something we only read about in a legal sense but coercion is most at home in our everyday lives. We use coercion to threaten someone into doing what we want. The example above of the wife’s withholding of intimacy is something that is pretty standard in our society. However, it’s also clearly violent (by the definition we outlined).
This subtle form of violence runs rampant in our workplaces. How many bosses have you had or known that terrorize their employees into being productive or acting the part? When the manager, Judy, does her rounds to make sure that everyone is on task (and not dinking around on Facebook) it’s a form of terrorism. She is using our fear of losing our jobs or being demoted to threaten us into productivity.
Dominance is also often found in the workplace but is also found in many of our relationships. Sometimes it’s a parent using the phrase ‘as long as you live under my roof and eat my food’. Other times it’s a male partner using his higher societal status to dominate a group conversation, disallowing his female partner from having a say.
Melody Beattie writes extensively about the toxicity of codependency. The reliance of one partner on another (or both on each other) is violent because the drag that is created by that ‘clinging’ pulls the affected person(s) off their path.
There are surely other forms of subtler violence that were missed here, but how do we identify them? Basically anything that is meant to throw someone else off the path of their individual, authentic human experience is a form of violence.
TYPES OF VIOLENCE
It’s fairly obvious, at this point, that violence runs rampant through our lives in indirect but powerful ways. As surprising as it is to dig down and find these veins running through our society and our lives, what may be more remarkable to some are the multitude of ‘silent’ ways through which violence is enacted.
When an individual uses communication, whether written or spoken, to cause harm to someone(s) else.
When an someone is harmed as a result of practices that are a part of her or his culture, religion or tradition.
When an individual’s spiritual beliefs are used to manipulate, dominate or control that person.
When somebody uses threats or fear against someone else in order to gain control.
When somebody says or does something that impacts the self-worthy of the person targeted.
The point of this article is to demonstrate that ‘violence’ is much more than most people understand it to be. The ‘lesser’ forms of violence have a huge impact on the ‘greater’ forms of violence in our society. By allowing these thin threads of manipulation, coercion, codependence, etc to wind their way through our lives and relationships, we are allowing them to build and morph into life-ending and life-altering results.
These subtle forms of violence live in dark places where people are too afraid or naive to dig them out. It is easy to see a mass shooting as the violence that needs to be eradicated; it is much, much harder to take personal stands against the everyday violence. However, this is exactly what needs to happen.
We need to use our minds to thoroughly introspect and observe the violence in and around us. Then, when we see it, we need to call it out and shine our Light into the darkness where the violence is existing. The light cast on it will go a long way toward putting a stop to it.
This process is NOT easy. It calls on each of us to be in integrity with ourselves and each other. When we call out these dark places, often we will be called to sacrifice portions of our life that we’ve become comfortable with. By calling out the codependence in our relationship, we may lose that connection. By calling out the coercion and control of the management at our company, we may lose our job. By refusing to get our baby boys circumcised, we may be cast out from our religious path.
But the questions to ask ourselves is, “What is important to me, truly? Do I want a peaceful life and world? What am I willing to actually DO to see that happen?” Leave your answers in the comments below.
Are you set on calling out the violence in your corner of the world? Awesome!
I offer Non-Violent Communication workshops to help you start the journey.
Just check out my Events page to register!