Violence not always the answer

Students should consider best way to handle conflict



Humans have two choices in conflict: violence or nonviolence. Many people disagree about the use of violence in general. But others believe it is warranted depending on the circumstances.

JUSTIN WASHINGTON, Evergreen research editor

When you see a mean person on a sidewalk, how do you react? Perhaps this person is making fun of a person who cannot speak English very well. Perhaps this person is throwing slurs at whoever passes by them. Perhaps this person is holding up a sign with a morally or politically disagreeable message.

Almost everyone reading this would understandably feel disappointment, contempt or anger, but how would you use those emotions? 

Would you ignore the person? Would you try and converse with them to see if maybe they are uneducated? Would you yell at the person? Would you start beating the person up?

I know one too many people who would choose the last option, and I cannot help but feel baffled every time. To clarify, I do believe people have the responsibility to let others know that their actions may be wrong. 

We should certainly stand up for people who speak English as a second language when they are being bullied, and we should inform others that slurs are not appropriate in social contexts.

But to commit violent acts against the person, regardless of their behavior, is something I disagree with for a variety of reasons.

I only believe in physical harm when it concerns the physical safety of either oneself or others. I do not think anyone would disagree with that. What seems to be controversial, though, is why so many of us justify the use of violence just because another person or their actions enrage us.

Maybe back in primitive times when humans barely had societies, much less morals or principles, it made sense for us to be violent. Wild animals primarily understand two languages: violence and sex.

But humans are no longer wild animals. We have evolved to be the most emotionally complex species, and we are arguably the only species that can reason from a moral standpoint. Given those developments, why do we choose violence?

Does it make sense for us to have the ability to communicate thoughts through speech if we would rather use our fists? Does it make sense for us to have principles in society if we are only going to abandon them for our own interests?

Sam Faris, sophomore electrical engineering major, said he believes everyone has their own ‘line’ that they draw when it comes to using physical aggression.

“I think that there is some level — I don’t even think I could identify it myself — where violence in response to some agitation against you is definitely defensible,” he said.

This ties into my other issue with choosing violence: it is inconsistent with our norms. Why is it that punching someone for saying they dislike my shirt is inappropriate, but punching someone because they made fun of my friend is something to be celebrated? 

When did we develop this thought process of accepting violence only in certain cases, and who decides the rules on when we are allowed to be violent?

When I think of violence, I think about the legality and morality behind the action. If someone is actively attempting to murder me, I have both the legal and moral right to, at most, kill them because they were threatening my survival. It would be considered self-defense from both a legal and moral standpoint.

However, if someone were to have a Nazi flag on their truck and I reacted by brutally attacking the owner of that truck, what would be the consequences? I absolutely would not have the legal right to do such a thing, but would I have the moral right?

Some would argue yes because racism is not justifiable from a moral standpoint, and therefore we are not morally responsible for the pain we bring upon the racist because they are committing a wrongdoing.

I, on the other hand, would argue no. Racism is awful and has no place in our species, but violence also has no place in our species. Even when dealing with bad humans, we are still dealing with humans, and we must remain ethical. People do not deserve to suffer when there is the opportunity to approach things in a less volatile manner.

Freshman zoology major Amber Boswellbelieves that violence is acceptable when someone’s rights are being violated.

“Circumstances where this is required would be if someone was violating someone else’s rights, in which violence in the form of self-defense is acceptable,” she said.

Boswell said that defining a person’s rights can be subjective, which contributes to this conundrum of when violence is acceptable.

For example, I as a homosexual male have the right to be treated as equally as every other American citizen. It is an infringement on my civil rights for someone to deny me a service purely based on my sexual orientation.

So, if I tried to purchase snacks from the convenience store and the clerk refused to sell to me because I am gay, would it be acceptable for me to assault that clerk? Again, this would not be a legally permissible action, but would it be a morally permissible action? Some would argue it is.

Faris said he believes verbal conflict should be kept civil and that inflicting violence against someone who exercises hate speech would not solve the issue at hand. 

He said the nature of when people are in favor of violence and when people are not is hypocritical. He outlined an example of said nature.

“I’m definitely a rational person, so it’s okay when I do it,” Faris said. “But this person who does it in this situation, that’s dumb. They’re stupid.”

What we have is recognition that there is a problem with how we perceive conflict, but what we lack is a solution to tackle the issue. It may be one of those things that never receives enough attention to gain a solution. 

We as a society are aware that punishing children physically is wrong and that dehumanizing prisoners is unethical. Why are we not at a point where we agree that violence in interpersonal conflict is unjust?

I would like to believe that conversations like these help to spark awareness of that very point. From there, change can begin. 

We went from ruthlessly violent to moderately violent, albeit over the span of thousands of years. It may not seem conceivable yet, but hopefully, future generations will contribute to a world where peaceful alternatives to violence are the norm.