You are violent whenever you harm another. Violence is often chosen as an ineffective response to shame, humiliation, hate, anger, or jealousy. To reduce violence it is essential to reduce shame and humiliation and to increase empathy.
- Harm to another,
- Inflicting Injury,
- Acting with force,
- Injury inflicted by deliberate means
- Depriving another of their needs
Root: from Latin violentus, force
Brutal, coercive, cruel, harsh, and forceful are all words that describe violence. The opposite of violence is respect.
Observations about Violence
- Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment. [Mar]
- Violence is an attempt to achieve justice. [Gil]
- Violence is about the maintenance of “manhood”. [Gil]
Origins of Violence
Violence is a primitive approach to self-preservation. It is a primal response to a threat.
The Road to Violence
Violence is often directed toward a hated enemy. This requires overcoming the natural inhibitions we have toward harming another human. A three-stage process is often followed, beginning by homogenizing the members of the opposition. They lose their identity as they become interchangeable members of an opposing group. Next they are dehumanized by emphasizing and exaggerating ways in which they are different from the in-group members. Finally they are demonized by declaring them the source of evil. Since the enemy are all interchangeable, inhuman, and evil, violence against them is now justified.
What a thrill it would be to visit the local electronics store, choose a 60” flat panel HD Television, pay for it with my credit card, and sit home watching the big game. Imagine the excitement of bringing it home, inviting friends over to watch it, and telling friends all about it. But the pain of the monthly bills would surely last longer than the joy of the novelty.
Violence incurs a similar debt. While violence may provide a thrilling way to solve an immediate problem and generate some attention and excitement, it comes at a substantial and long lasting cost. These costs include: the immediate physical and mental harm to the victim, the long-term harm to the victim, the hatred that often results; the revenge, retaliation, reparations, and punishments that often follow; relationships that are damaged instead of healed, wounds that are torn open; guilt, shame, and humiliation; spreading fear, and the long-lasting sadness and bitterness that often result.
Self restraint and alternative solutions provide a better answer in each case. Choose actions that support your values instead of acting on an impulse.
Pride, Shame, and Violence
Violence is often pursued as an antidote to shame or humiliation. The mistaken concept here is that violence is a source of pride and a defense of honor. “Are you going to stand for that?” “Are you going to take that from him?” “Show him what you are made of” are typical challenges. But the mistaken belief that violent acts can increase pride confuses dominance with stature. Pride is based on stature—the ability to help—not on dominance—the ability to harm. Although stature and dominance are both sources of power, they are not both sources of pride. Violence cannot increase pride and it cannot reduce shame or humiliation. It can only continue a destructive cycle.
Although violence cannot increase pride, the emotion of shame is often the cause of violence whether directed toward others or towards the self, especially when guilt or empathy is lacking. Inferiority feelings stimulate violent impulses. [Gil]
This analysis leads to a simple conclusion: to reduce violence it is essential to reduce shame and humiliation and to increase empathy, compassion, dignity, and stature.
None-the-less, throughout evolutionary and cultural history high stature is linked to fighting.
Forms of Violence
There are many form of violence, including:
- Child abuse—Physical or psychological harm to children
- Rape—Unwelcome sexual intercourse. This is often caused by a woman's challenge to a man's belief in his own superiority.
- Domestic violence—Physical or psychological harm to family members and co-habitants. This is often caused by fragile high self-esteem, dependency, or jealousy.
- Gang violence—Violent youths and juvenile delinquents.
- Political Terror—Government repression, tyranny, terrorism, and war. These are often caused by a threat to collected egotism. Patriotism—a combination of attachment and pride, and nationalism—the belief in the superiority of your nation—incline people toward war. By one credible estimate approximately 14,000 wars have been fought since 3600 B.C, and there have been only 26 days of world peace in the four decades since World War II.
- Prejudice, oppression, and genocide—Violence fueled by hate includes slavery, imperialism, and racism.
- Verbal attacks—Hateful, disrespectful, disruptive, humiliating, cruel, or insulting comments toward anyone. These violent attacks may be spoken, whispered, emailed, written privately or publically.
- “The deadliest form of violence is poverty.” ~ Ghandi
- “The most effective and powerful stimulus of violence in the human species is the experience of shame and humiliation.” ~ James Gilligan
- “The best general is the one who never fights” ~ Sun Tzu
- “Confront evil without employing evil”
- “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy . . .” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- “Think through the consequences of your actions for the next seven generations.” ~ Native American wisdom
- “When elephants fight it is the grass that gets trampled.”
- “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
[Mar] Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values, by Marshall B. Rosenberg
[Gil] Violence, by James Gilligan
Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, by Roy F. Baumeister, Aaron Beck
World report on violence and health, World Health Organization, October 3rd, 2002
The Man Who Listens to Horses, by Monty Roberts
Understanding and Preventing Violence, by Albert J. Reiss (Editor), Jeffrey A. Roth (Editor)
The drive for power, by Arnold A Hutschnecker
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
Straw Dogs, Humiliation provokes a gentile mathematician to extreme violence.
Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression: The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem, Psychology Review, 1996, Vol. 103, No. 1, 5-33, by Roy F. Baumeister, Laura Smart, Joseph M. Boden
Steven Pinker on the myth of violence, TED Talk by Steven Pinker, March 2007