Why do violent acts happen?
There are a thousand answers to this question. But not all of these answers are easily known. Especially when you are talking not about one single act of violence, but rather the continued stream of violence that keeps taking place, despite vows and initiatives to take steps to end it.
If we want to know why violence happens, and how to stop it from happening as much as possible, we’ve got to remember what violence actually is. We tend to think of violence as being about physical harm and bloodshed. But this is only one facet of violence. It’s far from the only kind.
The word violence comes from the same root as the verb violate. Violence is when somebody has been violated. As a society, we often fail to remember this.
It’s easy to look at the highest profile acts of violence and condemn them, and say that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. But it’s a lot harder to take a look at all the billions of little acts of violence – violation of a person’s sense of self-security – and find individuals to “bring to justice.”
It’s a lot harder to take a square look at ourselves and our society and admit that yes – we have a huge violence problem.
I’m not just talking about the wars that happen and are happening as we speak. I’m not just talking about dictatorships, corruption, militarism, political crackdowns on civil liberties, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and so on; I’m not just talking about the millions of people that get sick and die each year of preventable diseases and starvation; I’m talking about how we, as a society, do not have an understanding of how broad, commonplace, tolerated, and even encouraged everyday violence is.
Whenever somebody is made to feel unsafe – that is violence.
Whenever somebody is made to feel that they are a bad or worthless person – that is violence.
Whenever somebody is forced, coerced, or even ‘gently persuaded’ to do something they specifically do not want to do – that is violence.
This includes the most minuscule of situations. Everything from bullying to sarcastic remarks to threats to unwanted stereotyping, blackmail, emotional manipulation, guilt-tripping, and shaming – these are very often the ways in which acts of violence are carried out. Yes – it happens all the time.
It is true, of course, that there is no way to completely 100% eliminate all violence. That’s why no amount of lawmaking, tightened security, or crackdowns can ever make us feel completely safe (these in fact often end up making us feel less safe). If we truly want to reduce the amount – and the awful magnitude – of violence that occurs in the world today, we must become conscious of all these times when violence is happening. We must stop thinking of violence as this occasional phenomenon, and become aware of how it happens all the time, all around us.
Babies are not born with guns and explosives in their hands. Violent behavior is learned by what they see around them as they grow. One of the reasons many people often feel extra sympathy towards child victims of violent acts is because of this innate knowledge we have that children are more innocent – that they haven’t “assimilated” or “gotten used to” the uglier tendencies our society has. This thinking alone should tell us something about the amount of violence we accept as “normal.”
I’m not even saying all violence is always all bad. When a nurse sticks a needle into a 2-year-old’s arm to administer a vaccine that will protect the child from diseases in the future, this is an act of violence, because the kid does not want to be stuck with a needle – but it is a necessary one. Now – discussion of what kinds of violence are acceptable and when is a completely different debate that I’m not going to have here – but what we must understand that it is impossible to talk about what violence is preventable, and what violence is necessary, until we raise our consciousness about all the ways in which violence actually occurs.
In another post on this blog, a person looking over their own history of abusive actions wrote the following:
Before the physical actions came the threats and name-calling. Before the name-calling came the raised voice. Before the raised voice came the snide comments. Before the comments came the feeling of entitlement to CONTROL my partner’s feelings, cause my comments were meant to put her down and put her in her place.
In other words, the violence didn’t start simply with physical actions. It started with the unsafe attitude – long before any of the more ‘obvious’ kinds of violence.
We’ve got to take this same approach towards everything. If we want to reduce the amount of violence around us, it’s the only option we have. There’s no arming or lawmaking your way to a less violent world. We’ve got to start a dialogue that raises consciousness about all the different kinds of violence that happen – including the kinds that happen unintentionally. You know – the careless politically incorrect remark, the seemingly harmless automatic assumption one person might make about another, things like this.
This is about a whole lot more than just finding someone to blame or ‘bring to justice’. That is a related but different issue. It doesn’t matter how many people you ‘bring to justice’ if the root of the problem is left untouched – the monster will keep growing a new head each time. This is about what it will take so that our communities are far less of a fertile ground for awful things like bombings, shootings, rape, bullying, suicide, and general self-harm and harm towards others. It’s all connected. And today’s bombers, rapists, and assassins are yesterday’s forgotten children. Somebody who has to be violent has a serious problem – THEY are messed up. And they often got that way through years and years of ‘violence normalization’.
Why do people become violent and self-destructive in the first place? Who is listening? All those killers and shooters and rapists and suicide victims we hear about … who was listening? Did they feel heard? Listened to? Why did they feel the need to do such extreme things? 99% of the time, it’s because they feel that nobody understands. Nobody is listening. Nobody cares. Except maybe people who are feeling the same blinding hatred they are, unfortunately.
You can say that such individuals are exceptional and ‘should’ take responsibility for their anger rather than harming others if you like – but having this attitude is not going to stop the violent acts. We’ve got a better chance of stopping horrific attacks if we lower the level of violence generally in our communities – and thus lower our acceptance of everyday violence.
This isn’t a problem that has an easy solution. There’s no switch we can flip that will change things. But you can do your part around you – you can start a dialogue with those around you about what violence is and how to better identify it, prevent it and deal with it sooner when it does happen. In your relationships. In your family. In your workplace. Anywhere human beings interact. Listen for the opportunities.
This ongoing dialogue about violence is extremely important to have if you want to have a positive attitude in life. It’s hard to live with peace of mind if you are unable to live in the truth. And since that truth involves violence, we need to talk about it. A lot more than we are doing.
This won’t happen without a lot of listening – most of all because, when you are truly listening, you are unable to be violent at the same time. Perhaps that’s the most important thought I would like to leave with you from this: Violence happens when people aren’t listening.
That is all for now.