Correctionary: Violence

I consistently notice that speakers of the grand ol’ English language, even smart students, fail to realize the broader usage of the words they speak and write with, most especially loaded terms which aren’t used often. Words like “violence.”

The most common understanding of violence is that of physical violence. I punch you, or shoot you, or stab you with a sharpened stick. Indeed this is probably the most subjectively perceptible form of violence – because it hurts.  A lot.

But it is easy to go farther and show another form of violence: just yell something really rude at someone in the hallway today, and see how they react. Physical contact has not taken place, no one has been physically harmed but I’d be willing to bet that they either react much the same way as if they had. Emotions can be done violence just like bodies.

These are easy to see forms of violence, because they are both so personal.  You can see and feel the violent person. But if we move past the easy ways to think about violence, we find that there are many more ways to think about it than the obvious.

The root of the word, like so many we talk about, is Latin, and has the sense of being impetuous, or vehement – in short, forceful. The Latin “violentus” itself derives from the word “vis” or “power, force.” In this light, we see that real violence is to act either brashly, to do something one ought not to do according to a standard, and/or to use force and power. Something requires an impetuous control or power in order to be considered violent.

Plenty of things meet this requirement. Things like systems, organizations, and even language can have an unthoughtful and undeserved force or power over us. So violence isn’t only personal or between people.

Once you understand this, it’s not too difficult to think up something non-personal meeting this definition. We all have particular systems, economic, political, or cultural that we think are…well bad. They cause harm, or are considered evil. Why? It may not be just because we fight with them – or they with us – in wars, it might be the system itself is violent.

I imagine almost everyone can agree that the treatment of women in earlier European cultural systems was pretty terrible. Women were treated violently, even if they weren’t physically harmed, and even if they didn’t know about it or care about it. Violence is still violence even if those who are violated don’t know it or care about it.

We see culture itself had a flaw, and of course there are lots of other potential examples – the same could even be true of some current systems.

At any rate, now you can recognize violence where you see it, even where it is not immediately, physically perceptible to you.

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