Language & Violence (edited)

When we think of violence we think of a very specific kind of violence, that [this is not a relative pron.] of murder and torture, of physically hurting people. Traditionally, this violence could only be exerted by men, only them have been  authorized to use it, according to the patriarchal gender assignment of roles in society and the home. However, there is much more to violence. Actually, humans have managed to turn everything they touch into violence — we’re so creative! But we could be developing that creativity along very different lines.

Sticks-and-StonesThe problem with this other violence is that we do not perceive it as such. The question is, What is violent / violence? The social system we have exerts countless forms of violence by numerous means. This is culture, not nature. Puzzling enough, the patriarchal ideological system tells us violence is about survival and instinct, biological in some way, “natural,” like its gender roles. Women are “natural” mothers, men know nothing about that. Men are “natural” thinkers, women are bad at this. This is not violence (!). We accept poverty as an unavoidable fact of life. We do not see it as a kind of violence we create that we could work on, that could be stopped. We do not see we have other options. Any of us can think or love. We could actually care about people we do not love. We could feel moved, horrified by the fact that other people have to suffer, and admire their endurance and resilience instead of feel afraid of them.

Gender and Violence. Women are human beings and as such have taken part in this social system that has harmed our intelligence as a species so much. Men have had to kill and torture or be killed and tortured. There is a clear connection between patriarchal “Man”, being able to exert violence and fear. The more fear He feels, the more violent He can be. Just think of what it takes to kill someone, or to rape someone, and why “Men” do it. It is not about their instinct. It is culture telling them it is your duty, your right, because no ordinary human being can exert violence easily. It is hard. So we need to be brainwashed into it. Women, on their part, have had to accept submission, being second class human beings, their role having children and serving the species, not good enough for thinking and organizing society — unintelligent. For centuries, our society has been all about forcing gender roles on human beings, and today we know the human mind develops skills depending on what others expect from that person, too. (Incidentally, this is why Education can be such a powerful tool for the construction of a better world.) Not only depending on one’s talents. We can actually develop skills in spite of not having those talents! 😀

Women & Language. Women have learned to exert violence through language, mostly. They have had to use language to do a great deal of different things to survive. (Incidentally, this probably explains — I believe — why girls develop their language skills sooner than boys, in patriarchal societies.) I am not saying men have not learned this. Obviously, the have: humiliation, verbal aggression, confrontation… Honor. Men have found that a name, an insult, an offensive comment, addressed to them or “his” family was intolerable aggression and deserved a fight. But women have had to use language for a greater variety of purposes, I believe, that is why they have so much practice in using it, and some of these have been about hurting people, or manipulating them, which means, violent.

How can we overcome violence if we cannot even realize we are using it? Developing our social intelligence is relevant. Precious relevant help has come from social movements and art throughout History — and herstory, let us say throughout “the Story of Humanity.”

Yesterday in class we found an example of how through language we could be hurting someone in some way. Because the process is unconscious, what happens is that people get upset and fight or start avoiding each other. So I would like to share with you this example. In my life I have reflected upon nonviolent communication, to find out how I could contribute, as a language teacher, to help people improve their ability to communicate.

Imagine a discussion. I say “I believe we should overcome the gender roles because human beings should be free to develop their minds and lives without being assigned a set of tasks, ambitions, traits.” Someone else replies, “I disagree with that. I believe human beings are male or female. I am giving a non-sexist education to my children and I can see it’s biological — my girl loves dolls and my boy loves cars.” This discussion is perfectly all right. (Notice it is better to say “I disagree with that” than “I disagree with you.”) People are sharing ideas and explaining why they have those ideas. Now consider the following conversation. If they understand this, they will be able to continue exchanging views, exploring the matter, even if they become passionate about it, of course!

Classroom discussion. One student says, “I didn’t like the film much. I found it boring.” Another student replies, “I disagree with you. I found the film very interesting and moving.” The language teacher explains, “We shouldn’t use ‘I don’t agree’ here, because we are not dealing with ideas, we’re dealing with preferences, likes and dislikes, feelings. You could say ‘I don’t share that / your opinion / your feeling about the film’ instead.”

One of the things that creates tension in conversations is when people do not share your affections, and likes and dislikes are about emotion, primarily. So if on top of that not sharing you say you disagree a tense conversation, a ‘battle’ is going to start. Just think of football supporters! Nationalisms! Religions! Unlike feminists or scientists or artists, people involved in strong emotions in these three areas tend to use violence against others and feel justified. You can agree or disagree with somebody’s ideas, but then you cannot disagree with them not liking something you like. If you believe in God I cannot disagree on that. It is your emotional experience. I can disagree with you if you said that women who interrupt their pregnancies are “baby murderers” because you would be using verbal violence against women. But I cannot disagree with you if you would never chose to have an a VIP. I cannot disagree with people’s spirituality. It is their emotion. I can certainly say I do not share it. Likewise, I should not be told I am evil or faulty because I do not share your belief. All of this provided we respect art. 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!

Because we misuse language, because we use it badly, a perfectly “innocent” conversation, outside the classroom, could have a very different outcome, and we can observe that every day anywhere. Why do people fight? So many misunderstandings, tensions, verbal fights… The dynamics is that people resort to verbal violence and that often includes conceptual violence. The person whose feeling has been disagreed on will feel a blow and the need to “defend” her or himself — by making a dismissive comment or “joke” of some sort, by “striking back.” This is all unconscious, that is why we find ourselves in arguments we certainly did not need in our lives or relationships. If we were aware of the dynamics of violence in language, in communication, we would probably avoid certain fights because we wouldn’t find them worth it. Unfortunately, on the contrary, we extend this misuse of our ability to communicate to the discussion of ideas. Because there is no aggression when a reason is offered — you can refute it. However, we are trained to reject critical thinking as if there was something terribly wrong with it, as if it were violence. When we discuss ideas as if they were preferences, emotional beliefs — like people do on TV talk shows — we operate in that way.

There is a different world out there. People who are interested in learning, in knowing, can learn not to feel bad about an idea being refuted. They can focus on the analysis of ideas and feel interested in all kinds of issues around their beliefs, they can feel curious instead of attacked. Because there is no violence in offering a reason that questions/challenges what was said. A reason can be refuted and that gives us great freedom and keeps our dignity intact. People who feel threatened by a refutation of what they believe — all of us till we learn to discuss ideas — do so for power reasons. They feel, for instance, their prestige is at stake. They feel they are not worthy as individuals. Disagreeing with someone’s ideas does not equal thinking the person is wrong. It just means that you do not share a certain idea. Exchanging views, insight on that should always be thought of as an opportunity to learn. To learn something new, or to learn to improve the analysis of what you believe in.

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1 Response to Language & Violence (edited)

  1. Pingback: Y5 – Writings: Essays (LoM 1) | Plans & What We Did In Class

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