The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 25, 2023 - 11:26:40

What is violence?

Katie van Schaijik, Apr 30, 2015

Just a brief follow-up to my post of yesterday (which will need more than one):

I want to explain a little what I, Christian personalist that I am, mean by violence.

In the broadest sense, any act that tends toward de-throning another person's will in the zone of his due freedom is a form of violence. Violence is aggression (physical or psychological) against another person— his rights, his property, his integrity as a self.

If someone breaks into my house and takes what is mine, he commits violence against my property. If a man sees a woman and "gropes her with his eyes", mentally using her as a sex object, he commits violence against her dignity as a person. If a mother screams at her child, intimidating him into obedience, she commits violence against him. Lying and manipulating in order to get another to do my will are forms of violence against another person's freedom. If I gossip about a colleague to get in good with my boss, revealing what is private, I've done violence.

Neglect, whether physical or emotional, might also be considered violence, though the term abuse may be more apt for such cases.

Looking at it this way, it is easy to grasp why self-defense, even lethal self defense (whether on the personal or communal level), is not violence. There is nothing aggressive about protecting myself and what is mine from aggression. It's true on the psychological level too. To hurl insults is violent, while to give a hard snub to someone who is too forward and familiar isn't. Bullying is violence; fighting off a bully isn't.

The more I study John Paul II and ruminate over the meaning of the master/slave dynamic the clearer this all becomes to me. The antithesis of the master/slave dynamic is love. And, in a way, the first act of love is a "standing back", a declining to interfere and manipulate, a respect for boundaries, a self-restraint. Here is a key passage from Love and Responsibility [emphasis mine]:

The incommunicable, the inalienable, in a person is intrinsic to that person’s inner self, to the power of self determination, free will.  No one else can want for me.  No one can substitute his act of will for mine.  It does sometimes happen that someone very much wants me to want what he wants.  This is the moment when the impassable frontier between him and me, which is drawn by free will, becomes most obvious.  I may not want that which he wants me to want—and in this precisely I am incommunicabilis.  I am, and I must be, independent in my actions.  All human relationships are posited on this fact.  All true conceptions about education and culture begin from and return to this point.

And here is John Crosby:

The more one enters into the interiority and subjectivity of persons, the more one will have to acknowledge that the deepest acts and commitments of persons are very little amenable to the instruments of coercion.

In interpersonal relations, it's not enough that I mean well, or that I have an objective good (like my child's safety) as my end. The means matter. I can't use force to get my will. I have to respect the other's freedom.