violence vs. force

Hamsa, symbol of protection (public domain image)

In preparing to teach self-defense in 2017, I’ve been going back to basics, to get clear on some principles that I think are fundamental to the responsible use of force.

Of the many ways force can be defined, the broadest is the most neutral: strength or energy exerted or brought to bear :  cause of motion or change :  active power; and it is only when the context of the abuse of power comes into play that force is associated with, and in fact equated to, violence.

So, you want to stand against violence, without resorting to violence yourself. How do you know what constitutes violence?

According to the World Health Organization’s Violence Prevention Program:

the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

The WRVH also presents a typology of violence that, while not uniformly accepted, can be a useful way to understand the contexts in which violence occurs and the interactions between types of violence. This typology distinguishes four modes in which violence may be inflicted: physical; sexual; and psychological attack; and deprivation. It further divides the general definition of violence into three sub-types according to the victim-perpetrator relationship.

  • Self-directed violence refers to violence in which the perpetrator and the victim are the same individual and is subdivided into self-abuse and suicide.

  • Interpersonal violence refers to violence between individuals, and is subdivided into family and intimate partner violence and community violence. The former category includes child maltreatment; intimate partner violence; and elder abuse, while the latter is broken down into acquaintance and stranger violence and includes youth violence; assault by strangers; violence related to property crimes; and violence in workplaces and other institutions.

  • Collective violence refers to violence committed by larger groups of individuals and can be subdivided into social, political and economic violence.

If you are interested in working to make your world, or community, or home – or self – safe from violence, a definition this broad and detailed presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is having to look beyond physical expressions of violence and seek to address the conditions that lead (or allow) humans to harm one another (and animals, and ecological systems, if you want to go really broad). The opportunity? Seeing how many ways to address them are available to you, everyday, once you look.