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Defining Violence

violence -n

  1. powerful, untamed, or devastating force: the violence of the sea
  2. great strength of feeling, as in language, etc; fervour
  3. an unjust, unwarranted, or unlawful display of force, esp such as tends to overawe or intimidate
  4. to inflict harm upon; damage or violate: they did violence to the prisoners
  5. to distort or twist the sense or intention of: the reporters did violence to my speech

Collins English Dictionary

The problem with defining violence is that whatever our definition, there is always so much more. Take the above definitions as an example. Are #2 & #5 a surprise to you? Many who claim to be non-violent or even pacifists seem to miss those 2 definitions. Those are also the 2 that might get you into trouble in self-defence situations, crossing the 'de-escalatory line' & ending up in a fight or antagonising a hardened criminal. Most of us would use #3 as our rough & ready definition, & while not incorrect, it is limited, a fine line on a massive continuum. Both the form & degree of violence are highly variable. Most people only realize how limited their definition is when things spiral out of control at an alarming rate. A case of 'what you don't know could kill you'.

Violence is subjective

Also, from the above definition, it is obvious that violence & force are closely related. Note that violence always has a negative connotation while force can be positive, neutral or negative. In fact, it could be argued that violence is any use of force that is perceived negatively.  I emphasise perceive because invariably the perpetrator & the victim (& for that matter any witnesses, will view it differently). Our perceptions of violence are subjective. Our beliefs, experiences, culture, necessity & convenience all factor in. We perceive violence as that which is beyond our comfort zone. What it boils down to is, any force that an individual is comfortable using, or is able to use more effectively is not perceived as violence by that individual. It's only violence if you lose.

Violence is for gain

Ultimately people become violent because at that particular point violence seems the only or best way to get what they want. Violence itself is never the ultimate goal, rather it is a means to an end. What the perpetrator of the violence wants could either be material or emotional / psychological or any combination.  Think of the differences between an enraged stranger in a bar, a violent hi-jacker & a serial killer. What each of them wants is very different however each of them is prepared to become violent.

Types of violence

Even a superficial look at the statistics on crime reveals 2 important things (beyond the shocking pervasiveness):

  1. By far the majority of violence is personal (perpetrated by known parties rather than by strangers or criminals). How many times have you argued / fought with strangers vs people you know (friends, family, colleagues...)
  2. Females are almost always the victims (Gender issues in self-defence is an import issue & will be dealt with in a separate post).

Marc MacYoung in his book "A Professional's Guide to Ending Violence Quickly"  defines 4 reasons for interpersonal violence:

  1. Fear
  2. Frenzy
  3. Tantrum
  4. Criminal

While Peyton Quinn defines the 4 types as:

  1. Territorial
  2. Behavioural correction
  3. Criminal
  4. Preditorial

I find it useful to use both of these definitions as they offer different perspectives. It is important to understand the different types of violence & the motivations that drive each as there-in lie the keys to avoiding the violence. I will discuss this in more detail in a future post, but in the mean time here is an insight...

Violence often comes with instructions on how to avoid it

Generally violence that relates to material / external goals  is preceded by a threat. The threat is usually in the form of "I want or I will":

  • "If you don't shut your mouth I'll shut it for you!"
  • "Get out of my bar or I'll kick your f*ng ass into next week!"
  • "Give me your car or I'll shoot you!"

Unless the actual intent is preditorial & just disguised as something else, complying with the instruction will prevent the violence. Avoidance (if possible) is always the best strategy. Loss of face or property can never compare with loss of life or limb...

self-defence training at mec's martial arts

mec's self-defence programme uses a layered approach to self-defence:

  1. Common Sense
  2. Diplomacy
  3. Strategy
  4. Tactical

It is unreasonable to believe that all situations can be resolved reasonably....