Why Violence?

Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.
~Lao Tzu~

Violence is seldom random although it is often described that way in the news. There is usually a reason, although a violent person might not have much understanding of the reason. Wikipedia suggests a few possible reasons for violence:

  • To express anger or hostility–Many people show their anger by hitting someone or something or at least wanting to do so. Your first reaction might be to show how you feel by striking out which does not usually change anything for the better. It shows people you are angry, although it also shows how little control you have of yourself. If you often act violently to show your anger, you probably have no goal in mind other than to express your rage. It is a purely emotional reaction which shows others you are upset but does not convey why you are upset or what you would like to have different about the situation associated with your anger.
  • To assert dominance–Violence can be a way of trying to take charge of a situation or of another person or group by force. It is a way to show others that you are more powerful than they are and that they can’t push you around.
  • To intimidate or threaten–This is similar to the attempt to dominate others. Here you want others to fear you, and you act in a way to bring this about. If you are successful, others may be less likely to do whatever they did to make you angry next time. This is an emotional response and often does not have any specific goal or circumstances in mind other than to scare others into acting as you want them to.
  • To achieve a goalYou may turn to violence when more reasonable methods do not get you what you want. You might not be adept at less aggressive ways of getting others’ attention. Yet, once you turn to violence, people are usually less likely to pay attention to what you want and concentrate on avoiding interaction with you.
  • To express possession–This is a way of dramatizing your control of property. It can also be a way to show others they are threatening your control of your possessions and you want to warn them to stay back. When they don’t back off, you might escalate your violence to make your point.
  • A response to fear–Protecting yourself in the face of danger is a basic animal instinct commonly seen in humans as well as other species. We saw earlier that violence is an attempt to cause others pain. While others’ pain might be a side effect of your attempt to protect yourself, deliberately wanting to hurt someone goes beyond the need for self-protection.
  • A reaction to pain–This is similar to your response to fear. Violence is an extreme reaction to managing pain. Aggression might well be necessary when someone is causing you pain, but again, wanting them to suffer goes beyond basic protection of your needs and rights.
  • To compete with others–This is a similar motivation to intimidation or threat. Violence is a way to lessen the competition for what you want. Deliberately going beyond fair competition, violence puts you squarely in the role of the bully.

These are possible motivations for violence. Regardless of your reasons, violence is never a good choice, hurting you as well as the person toward whom you direct your anger.
Action Steps

  • If tend to be violent, do any of these motivations apply to you?
  • If so, what are your alternatives?
  • Has someone been violent toward you?
  • What was that person’s motivation?
  • Look for the reason and try to discuss it.

(Excerpt from Dr. Langen’s new book From Violence to Peace)

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