What is Violence?
I guess it’s fair to say I’ve been writing (and moreover, thinking) a lot about nonviolence over the past year. That reflection has raise the question not only of “what is nonviolence?”, but more fundamentally, “what is violence?”.
Some folks have expressed confusion or even disbelief over the kinds of things which nonviolence includes under the heading of “violence”. The term “violence”, in this context, does not refer soley to acts of physical violence, such as assault, but also to psychological violence (often referred-to as “abuse” or “mental cruelty”) and, most notably, to passive violence:
“Passive violence is the conscious ignoring of the physical, psychological, and emotional needs of a person; the conscious failure to ensure the safety of someone under one’s care; or the failure to ensure the development of well-being of someone under one’s care.”
~ Glen Anderson
Here’s what Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, has to say:
“Classifying and judging people promotes violence.
“At the root of much, if not all, violence – whether verbal, psychological, or physical, whether among family members, tribes, or nations – is a kind of thinking that attributes the cause of conflict to wrongness in one’s adversaries…”
And the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi has written about his experiences as a child, learning about nonviolence with his grandfather:
“We often don’t acknowledge our violence because we are ignorant about it; we assume we are not violent because our vision of violence is one of fighting, killing, beating, and wars – the types of things that average individuals dont do.”
~ Arun Gandhi
The World Health Organisation defines “violence” thus:
“Violence is 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.”
Note here the inclusion of “the use of power” or “the threat of the use of force or power” which “(may) result in…psychological harm, or deprivation“. Although couched in somewhat bureaucratic language, the gist of this definition remains very much in line with that of the nonviolent community.
Aside: the implicit notion that violence requires intentionality is not a premise to which I subscribe. I believe that unintentional violence can be at least as harmful and pernicious as violence wreaked intentionally.
Walter Wink was a scholar, Christian theologian and activist, who spent his life studying the roots of violence. He died earlier this year. He writings refer often to the idea of “Domination Structures”, “Domination Systems” or a “Domination Culture”.
He also coined the phrase “The Myth of Redemptive Violence“, and its ubiquity and dominion:
“The greatest religion on the planet is not Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Judaism but the pervasive faith in violence.”
~ Walter Wink
The Myth of Redemptive Violence provides Domination Systems with a narrative that can be reproduced in an infinite number of ways. A narrative which convinces all involved in Domination Systems (oppressors and oppressed alike) that without the Domination System the world would collapse, and only the violence perpetrated by it (or in its name) can save us from this fate.
“Instead of defining domination systems as one set of clearly defined behaviors in opposition to partnership as another set of clearly defined behaviours, we might begin from a view that all human behaviors and structures lie somewhere on a domination / partnership continuum…
“The domination end of the spectrum is characterized by hierarchy (a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority), authori-tarianism (favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom; showing a lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others), enforcement of the status quo through systemic beliefs, training, and often coercive violence.
“The partnership end of the spectrum is characterised by egalitarian (of, relating to, or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities), mutually respectful and affirming relationships, with teachings and beliefs that teach and value empathy and understanding.”
~ Eric Mosley
In this video introduction to nonviolence, Marshall Rosenberg explains e.g. Walter Wink’s perspective on how, circa eight thousand years ago, today’s pervasive language of domination emerged to support the emerging Domination Structures of that time.
And let’s not delude ourselves that violence is predominantly the domain of rebels, revolutionaries, free thinkers or the “mentally ill”:
“The horrors that we have seen, the still greater horrors we shall presently see, are not signs that rebels, insubordinate, untameable men are increasing in number throughout the world, but rather that there is a constant increase in the number of obedient, docile men.”
~ George Bernanos
The Connection With Business and Software Development
Why is the topic of violence relevant?
How likely is it that folks see the connection between nonviolence and the day-to-day work of business, and in particular, software development?
How likely is it that folks see the domination structures within which they live and work, and the harm done to individuals within such structures?
My own personal commitment to nonviolence is borne of the same motivations that led me to start the Rightshifting campaign some years ago. Namely, the egregious waste of people’s lives and talents that come from working in ineffective organisations.
I believe it’s no coincidence that there’s a close correlation between ineffectiveness and domination structures, in knowledge-work organisations in particular. In the Rightshifting vernacular, the more left-shifted an organisation, the more violence and domination we are likely to see.
Indeed, it’s been my experience over many years that there is not just a close correlation, but a causal link, between domination structures in organisations and ineffectiveness (including a lack of employee engagement, low morale, social loafing, etc).
I’ll be writing more about the harm done by violence and domination structures in the workplace, and perhaps more importantly, what to do about it, in a forthcoming post.