Subtle Forms of Violence

The Occupy movement has rekindled discussions around the use of nonviolence. Many people advocate a nonviolent approach arguing that we cannot transform a system that uses violence with violent means.

What seems to be missing in these discussions is a focus on subtle forms of violence, including those that are emerging in the very same discussions. Because i am interested in cultural trauma, i am focusing on uncovering those forms both in myself and in others.

The word “trauma” comes from the Greek word for wound. The definition of psychological trauma views it as an “upsetting” or “severely disturbing” experience that “has lasting negative effects on a person’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior”. Growing up in the dominant culture is supposedly not upsetting or severely disturbing. It is considered normal. Yet, it has lasting negative effects: It limits our potential and prevents us from thriving as fully integrated human beings. To differentiate the trauma that stems from cultural imprinting from other childhood trauma, i refer to it as cultural trauma.

Because the dominat(ing) culture is based on power-over, oppression/privilege, and domination, we have learned to act in ways that are often subtly violent. For example, by writing this post, i am displaying several privileges: I have enough time & money to articulate my ideas, which has been helped by substantial amounts of education. I could (and probably do) use that privilege to overpower others with a more eloquent use of words or simply with a higher volume of words. I have thrown up my hands in frustration when someone was using “too many words” and simply agreed to them because i didn’t want to spend the time countering their word-stream. They overpowered me with volume.

Another way to silence others is by using terminology to label their expressions. Some people are concerned that activists in the occupy movement are creating “enemy images” with their focus on the 1%. That is a valid concern because there is so much hurt and anger in many of us that it is easy to not see the humanity of people who own more money than i could imagine while ignoring the suffering of others. Yet, sometimes this concern is voiced so quickly that it amounts to silencing those of us who are struggling to combine a critique of the system with empowering the 99%. We cannot ignore the systemic problems if we want to empower the 99%.

Personally, i find it easier to see these subtle forms of violence in others. So, i have decided to add an awareness practice: Whenever i notice someone else exert their power over me, i ask myself if i, too, often act in similar ways. The insidiousness of cultural trauma means that none of us can overcome its effects simply by an act of intention. It takes hard work to uncover and transform the beliefs that can drive us to behave in ways that we would prefer not to. And there is another subtle form of violence lurking here: Self-judgment, too, is violent. Bringing compassion to our own and others displays of cultural imprinting can shift our behavior toward nonviolence.

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