In This Hub:
An Intro to Self-Defense
Child Safety Hub
LEO-Military Security Hub
Knife Fighting Hub
Martial Arts Hub
Property Crime Hub
Repercussions of Violence
Street Fighting Hub
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responsible for them dare not publicly avow. A public discussion
would drag these motives in their nudity into the open, where
they would die of exposure to the withering contempt of humanity.
David Lloyd George
Unfortunately, the same can be said of most
On this page:
Before we start this page we need to state something up front:
The decision whether or not to use force in defense is entirely yours to make.
It is not our intention to push our decisions onto you or sway your decision in either direction. It is your life, you choose how you want to live it. Yes, we have made our choices. But that was our choices, based on past experiences and personal responsibility for our decision. That choice guides our daily conduct and we live with the consequences of those choices.
In case you missed the implication there, it's an awfully big choice. It isn't like deciding what to have for dinner or what to watch on TV tonight. Whatever decision you make carries great responsibility and has life long impact -- if not consequences.
Our intent with this page is to point out misconceptions about both sides of the argument. There are so many misconceptions about this subject that people routinely make choices based, not on facts, but on these misconceptions. This includes ineffective and dangerous compromises with themselves about violence. Compromises that while they may believe keep them safe are actually putting them into greater danger. Into this category we also must include the choice not to make a choice about the subject.
Our goal is to help you make an informed decision.
What underlies this subject
The problem is that's the wrong question.
"Should you use violence to defend yourself?" is easy to ask, but impossible to answer correctly. To start with, the terminology is wrong. The term should be 'force,' not 'violence.' The difference between violence and force is kind of like the difference between racing and driving. While many of the components are the same, the application is radically different. But until you understand the differences you are going to mistakenly lump them together as so many people do.
Strictly speaking one never uses violence to defend oneself. That's an oxymoron. Violence is the tool of the aggressor, not of the defender. As such the terms 'violence' and 'defend' cancel each other out, making it a meaningless question. This might sound like something a lawyer would try, but -- as you will see -- the distinction between force and violence is critical. While violence is almost always in the wrong. This not always the case with force. In and of itself, force is neutral. It is how you apply it that determines if it is violence or not. Force can be a necessary and valuable tool -- especially against violence.
This is why it is important to understand the difference in terminology. If your understanding of the terminology is incorrect, then by extension your assumptions about the subject will also be wrong. And when your assumptions and understanding are incorrect, then so too will be your actions. When misapplied and amplified, force becomes violence.
If the terminology weren't enough of a problem, the phrasing of the question of "should you use violence to defend yourself?" is just as screwed up. The way the question is put has no simple answer. That is because it is actually about 14 different issues and questions all rolled into one simplistic lump. What does someone mean by "defend yourself?" The sad truth is that violence is often used by people who believe they are defending themselves. But believing and feeling something doesn't necessarily make it so. While such people may feel they are defending themselves, they are, in fact, attacking. They have crossed the line from force into violence.
What are the circumstances of the situation? What is the level of threat? Where do you need to stop using force before it crosses over into violence? These are just a few of the issues that that simplistic question lumps into one poorly defined mess. Each of the issues must be individually assessed and its influence on others considered. This website covers many of these other factors that you must consider such as ethics, morals, awareness, avoidance, legal complications, boundary enforcement and your participation in creating the situation.
So while it would be easy to give you a nice neat, simplistic answers like "yes you should" or "no you should never use violence," those answers are not applicable. In fact, they only work if you're never involved in a potentially dangerous solution! The reality is this issue is far more complex and you need to consider many different factors before you make a decision. These factors are what we're going to discuss on this page.
The decision whether or not to use physical force is not to be taken lightly. There are long term psychological, legal, moral and ethical ramifications of either decision. Before you can make an informed choice as to whether or not you are willing to participate in "self-defense" or opt for a more pacifistic approach, you must understand all the factors involved. Then you can make an informed decision instead of an ineffective -- and dangerous -- compromise.
In not realizing this, they cross over from defending their boundaries into becoming a fighter. I cannot tell you how many fights I have broken up and had both parties claim it was "self-defense." Both parties actually believed the other person was being the aggressor and they were 'defending' themselves from the other person's aggression. How can this be? How can two people be 'defending' themselves? Yet you will find this attitude again and again. As you will see there is a big difference between self-defense and fighting.
It is our position that most people have never researched the subject of violence, much less given it much thought about the choices involved. This is a neutral observation. Where the issue becomes less neutral is the motivation for such a behavior. Some people don't do it because quite frankly it is a non-issue in their lives. They simply do not live lives where crime and violence are major factors. For others, the polar opposite applies. Crime and violence is very much a factor in their lives, but since it is so systemic they just don't bother to question it. They just accept it as part of life and react accordingly. Then there are some who intentionally avoid looking at the subject because would it reveal serious character flaws in their personalities. If they understood what violence is and how often they commit it they would no longer be able to fool themselves into believing that they are good people... or peaceful ones for that matter.
We feel however, there is a much larger group for whom the issue is defined by what they think they know about violence. The people fit what American humorist Will Rogers meant when he is supposed to have said "It ain't that people are ignorant, it's that they know so much that ain't so." It is these people who, because they think they know what violence is, make dangerous compromises with themselves about what they will and will not do. These compromises, while they work in safe environments, actively put you at risk in dangerous situations.
Nature of pacifism
In order to truly understand the significance of that statement, one must first understand both the term pacifist, pacifism and their root term pacific. As defined by Random House Unabridged Edition
Pacific: adj 1) tending to make peace; conciliatory
2) not warlike; peaceable; mild 3) at peace; peaceful 4) calm; tranquil 5)
pertaining to the pacific ocean etc., etc..
Pacifism: Brit .pacifism [pacific + ism] -pacifistic
In short, pacifism is not only about being against violence, it also is about being non-violent.
To be a pacifist, you must be peaceful. And that means you don't use violence to get what you want. To be peaceful you strive for calm and tranquility; within in your mind, within your spirit, within your emotions and attitudes, within your words and within your behavior. You project peace, not violence. In short, being pacifistic means that you do not engage in any kind of violence yourself.
Unfortunately, most self-proclaimed 'pacifists' are anything but pacific. When considered with the definition of violence given below (click down, and return) the implications of Mr. Young's statement should bring you up short. It is very easy to be extremely violent without ever being physical about it. Pacifism is not -- as many self-proclaimed pacifists do -- screaming vitriolic anger at people and then claiming you are non-violent because you didn't punch anybody. If you think this is an exaggeration, look at photos and examine the faces of people who are engaged in "peace protests," or better yet, watch their actions and behaviors on film, especially when they are confronting someone. They are many things, but non-violent is not one of them.
Pacifism is not about being "verbally/emotionally violent" and then hiding behind a convenient definition so you don't get punched. Nor is it about being selfish and hurtful and relying on convention to keep you safe. People who engage in violence without ever "stooping" to physical violence are not being pacifistic. In order to get their way, they are trying to control the degree of violence in which they participate. What is interesting to notice is the intense unease of these kind of people have when around individuals who they deem "violent." (e.g. those who will take it physical). Our theory is that their reliance on violence makes them uncomfortable around someone who is willing to go further with it than they.
Contrast this with the fact that a "truly" pacific person will be safe around violent individuals. It is a litmus test for true non-violence. A peaceful person will literally cause a violent person to "relax." Being as there is no violence in them, there is nothing to reflect back. Such a person can safely exist in the toughest of neighborhoods and deal with the most violent people without danger (except on rare occasions involving someone who is so severely mentally disturbed, disturbed that we are talking institutionalization ). The reason for this "safety" -- and the reason it is so important to realize the difference between true pacifism and just claiming that you are a pacifist -- is simple.
Violence attracts violence.
The violence within you will be seen by violent people. If you are a "false" pacifist you will still attract violent people. People who are not afraid to use violence to get what they want will both be attracted to you and want to fight with you. Often this will be similar levels of violence, sometimes, however, it will be more extreme. Unfortunately, once you have "broadcast" the message, you cannot control who answers it.
We suspect this is one of the reasons why verbally/emotionally violent people are uncomfortable in the presence of those who will use physical force.
Choosing to be a pacifist is a valid -- and in many ways wonderful -- lifestyle choice. The world would be a far better place if more people made that decision. But it is a lifestyle choice that you must remain consistent to; it guides your thoughts, actions and words. The problem lies with the fact that many people who claim to be pacifists are not only afraid of physical violence, but they hide their verbal/emotional violence behind the idea. You cannot hide the violent storm of emotions behind the guise of being pacific.
Violence: n 1) swift and intense force. 2) rough or injurious physical force, action or treatment. 3) an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights, laws, etc. 4) a violent act or proceeding. 5) rough or immoderate vehemence as of feeling or language. 6) injury, as from distortion of meaning or fact. Violent: adj 1) acting with or characterized by uncontrolled, strong, rough force 2) acting with or characterized by, or caused by, injurious or destructive force 3) intense in force, effect; severe, extreme. 4) roughly or immoderately vehement or ardent 5) furious in impetuosity, energy, etc. 6) of pertaining to, or constituting a distortion of meaning or fact. (return to pacifism)
With what you now know about pacifism, you can see these are very inconvenient definitions of violent and violence. Pay special attention to the third, fifth and sixth meanings of violence as well as the third through sixth meanings of violent, because this is how someone can be extremely violent without ever using physical force.
Have you ever encountered someone who just "went off" over a small issue? They raise their voice, become hostile and confrontational over a small, isolated incident or point? They become insulting, demeaning, contemptuous or just plain mean to the source of their irritation. This is often built on a foundation of self-righteousness over a perceived wrong. The hypothetical example we use is someone becoming loud and aggressive because a store clerk shorted that person a quarter in change. It's only a quarter, such an extreme reaction is both an unwarranted and unjust use of force.
Such a person is being violent.
In truth, any perceived wrong, slight or mistake will do as an excuse for such people to vent their hostility. However, if you mention this fact to these kind of people they will swear on stacks of bibles they are not being violent. And, in their mind they are not, in their minds they are using appropriate levels of force to defend themselves against the attacks they suffer from an unjust world. Although far less extreme, this is the same selfish, self-justifying , rationalization process that violent criminals and rapists use.
Unfortunately, with both pacifism and violence, you will discover the definitions most people hold are more convenient than accurate. Convenient in that said definitions allow that person to do what he wants and/or profits him. From that perspective, whatever benefits them is okay. Whatever goes beyond that isn't. If you look around you will find many examples of this kind of self-serving logic and rationalization to justify actions. Never underestimate people's ability to rationalize their own behavior. And that includes you too.
Psychology of violence
There are certain kinds of general psychology that a "group" as a whole will adopt. These attitudes not only are self-reinforcing by being around like kind, but new physiological research is showing that these patterns actually become physically wired into the brain. Literally the person can become 'programmed' to think a certain way. Think of it as a combination of software and hardware to operate a certain way. Once these patterns are established they strongly -- if not permanently -- influence our personalities and thinking.
These patterns of thinking affect people's behavior, their words, their actions and even their unconscious body language. A host of subtle clues and cues arise from how the person thinks. A collection these "signs" creates a pattern These signs/patterns can be observed and interpreted by others. These subtle cues are often referred to as "vibes." Whether you believe in mystical energies or not, there is nothing woo-woo about spotting this psychological/ physiological patterning. In fact, vibes are described in psychological terms as "non-verbal leakage. Once you are familiar with these "patterns" and the subtle clues that "leak" out, you can almost magically look at people and identify who is a cop, a criminal, gay, an alcoholic, a drug user, their social class, a combat vet or a host of other categories. All because of non-verbal leakage arising from deeply held beliefs and patterns of thinking. (This is also the source for being "attracted" to someone in a social/flirting context -- like recognizes like, even if you don't consciously recognize it).
In the same vein, violent people recognize their own.
Violent and hostile people have a very specific set of non-verbal leakage. It is immediately recognizable to like-minded individuals, who also tend to operate from a philosophy of anger and a willingness to fight. What's interesting is how, once it is identified in each other, two violent people will go out of their way to find a reason to contest each other. Of special interest to note is how, to the people involved, it just "seemed to happen." They have no real idea how the conflict came about. This is due to the fact that people's violent behavioral patterns are often unconscious. They are operating very much on an almost instinctive level -- which explains their inability to accurately assess their participation in the problem.
Whereas, to an aware observer, it was as obvious as two strange dogs crossing the street to fight; literally, the instincts kicked in and they made a beeline towards one another. You know, once these "instincts/patterns" kick in and they are heading towards one another, some kind of conflict is inevitable. Often this manifests as the two "coincidentally" gravitating to the same place at the same time. Once there an excuse is found to "make a comment" that the other reacts negatively to. The situation arises from there.
What is interesting to note however, is that while both were looking for an excuse, both blame the other for initiating the problem. And from their "blinder-wearing" perspectives, it *was* the other's fault. They don't see their participation in the conflict or its escalation. To the average person, both parties were being jerks, giving credence to the old saying: It takes two to fight. Where things get slippery is in the aftermath. During such time both parties will seek "allies" to support the idea that they were the aggrieved party. Unfortunately, the kind of people who will support this self-justifying blindness to one's own bad behavior have the same patterns. They do the same thing, so of course they are going to agree that you were "right." This "reinforcement" will allow both parties to continue to protect their self-justifying thought processes.
It doesn't matter how much you claim to be a pacifist, if you have a violent "spirit" you will attract violent people to you. Sometimes in open conflict, other times because they are the only ones who can stand to be around you. (The reason for this is: As they excuse your violent behavior, they expect you to excuse theirs). When you are surrounded by violent people, it isn't a matter of if, but of when, violence will occur -- especially if you are equally violent in spirit as they are. The violence within you mirrors back the violence in them.
Incidentally, this is why a truly peaceful person can safely go among violent people. There is no violence within him/her to reflect back another person's violent spirit. A caveat on this however, is that you cannot go into a situation with peaceful intentions and an agenda -- especially an agenda to get the violent person to change his behavior. This is often looked upon as a "hustle" and/or an intrusion by the people you are trying to change. Violent people expect to have to fight. When they see violence in others this reconfirms their beliefs. Whereas, when they encounter a truly "at peace" person, their defenses literally "fall away" for the moment.
The key element in this however, is that if you are angry, hostile, selfish or like to fight, "nice" people will tend to avoid you; while like-minded people will be attracted to you. The problem is that they are just as willing to go to war over a slight, insult or perceived wrong as you are -- and they may be willing to take it to an extreme that you are not comfortable with or prepared to handle.
Psychology of victimhood
The real problem with most victims is that they are not at peace, they are instead losers in the game of violence.
Some don't play against larger opponents because they know they will lose, they instead focus their unacceptable behavior on smaller prey while bemoaning their victimization by those larger than they. Others try to "rewrite" the rules so they can win. Such people tend to put themselves in "safe" environments and then proceed to bully and pick on people. Think of someone who was bullied in school, who becomes an intellectual "tyrant" or swaggering senior student in a martial arts school, (where they know people will not beat them up). While still others try to sneak around how the game is played and use guile to achieve what they want. These people are always trying something "slick", and whining when it "backfires." Still others don the martyred mantle of victimhood, and yet never do anything about the behaviors, conditions and psychology that lead to their "victimization" in the first place.
As the old saying goes "Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results." And yet, these are common, repeating behaviors among those who think of themselves as "victims." Recognize something right now that is very important, "victimhood" is a coping strategy... one that gives the victim a very twisted, but very real power and control.
What "victims" are not doing, is letting go of the psychology of violence. They are just playing the other side of the coin -- and that is exactly what makes them such appealing targets to the more violent person. They have the violence within them, but they don't have the resolution to act upon it. They are literally, the co-dependant to the alcoholic, both enmeshed in the same dysfunctional psychology.
This violent psychology can be openly displayed or deeply buried and cleverly disguised, but it is definitely there. When blatant, the previous defined behaviors are easy to see and the hypocrisy obvious. When buried or obscured by other issues, these patters are much harder for a normal person to spot and identify -- especially if the "victim" is adept at coving them with the guise of peacefulness, altruism or ideology. However, if you "push the right buttons" you will see this violent, angry and hostile aspect quickly displayed. Literally you will see a Jeckel and Hyde transformation. One of the fastest ways to see this transformation is if you challenge their "disguise" of peacefulness. A prime example of this facade was Wayne Williams the Georgia serial killer in the early 80s. Soft spoken and mild mannered in presentation, the court case was not going well for the prosecution because the jury could not believe such a gentle person could be a serial killer. Finally his veneer cracked and he displayed his rabid darker side. A hidden persona that was indeed very capable of sexually assaulting and killing multiple children.
The reactions of a "false pacifist" is significantly different than how a truly peaceful person will react to challenges to their peacefulness. A truly peaceful person will not react with hostility, anger, blame or "guilt tripping." the person questioning his/her motives.. For a lack of better words, there is a sense of shallowness about the "peacefulness" of someone who is hiding behind the guise of pacifism. They have all the outward signs of someone who is peaceful, but there is something very ugly and controlling lurking just beneath the surface. In normal people this creates an uneasy sense of hypocrisy. One where they often can't tell you what is wrong, but they know something isn't right.
However, it is this lack of peaceful depth and the violence "peeking out to see "if it is safe to come forth" that tips off openly hostile people as to such a person's "victim potential." Violent people like hurting other violent people and there is nothing more easy to victimize than a violent person who doesn't know he/she is violent. Think of it as a kind of revenge. They want someone who will squirm in outrage and anger, but be too afraid to do anything about it. This is why criminals don't necessarily go after the totally weak and helpless. They want someone with just enough fight to make it fun. And people who define themselves as victims fit this bill perfectly, they have all the reactions that feed right into this. They have enough violence within themselves to know what is happening and they also have the fixation on violence that tells the "abuser" that they are a player in the game of violence.
Pacifism or self-defense
In short, if you choose not to physically defend yourself, you must also adopt true pacifism. If you choose to defend yourself, you must forgo the conveniences of victimhood and accept responsibility for your actions.
There is no convenient middle ground on this issue. That is to say one where you can verbally or emotionally attack people and then blame them for the consequences. Such a position will literally put you standing in the middle of a freeway, insisting on your right to be there and then being outraged that you are hit by a car. That is exactly what "victims" do. And sooner or later they meet up with someone who is far more violent than they are. You can be on one side of the road or the other, trying to stand in the middle will get you squished like a grape.
Having said this however, it doesn't mean you have to adopt a "blood, guts and gore" mindset if you decide to defend yourself. The pacifism vs. self-defense question is not as black and white as you might infer from the preceding paragraphs. There are many tempering and rational factors that make either decision a workable lifestyle choice. And indeed once you know the factors involved, you can "safely cross the road." In other words, just because you have decided to protect yourself if necessary doesn't mean you cannot strive to resolve potential conflicts peacefully. In fact, someone who has made a rational and informed decision in either direction is more likely to be able to effectively bring about a peaceful resolution because he/she is not operating through false definitions and delusions about his/her actions.
This is not something that goes away.
But then again, neither does being physically assaulted and/or raped. The aftermath of either self-defense or victimization will be traumatic and unpleasant. The difference is that with the former, you have a choice. In fact, the best analogy is chemotherapy. Undergoing that process is a trying and horrible experience. One that no sane person would willingly undergo without good reason. However, when faced with cancer (an assault) chemotherapy (self-defense) is very much the lesser of two evils. You do it because you have to in order to survive.
However, when it comes down to it, not spending a lifetime smoking, juggling uranium or being sloppy with chemical compounds does wonders to reduce your chances of getting cancer. So does not working or living in a toxic environment, If you don't do those things, you significantly reduce the likelihood of you having to make the decision to undergo chemotherapy. In the same vein, if you do not engage in high risk behavior you significantly reduce your chances of having to defend yourself.
Here is the true challenge of self-defense, while it is possible to justify, rationalize and blame someone else, a part of you knows that hurting other people is wrong.
You can tell yourself "he deserved it" all you want and, for many years that might hold off the guilt. And this by the way, is exactly what the violent person does. He justifies what he did, through a filter of rationalization and selfishness. Sorry to pop anybody's bubble here, but you can't do the same thing that the criminal is doing and then claim that you are better than him.
Worse still, this self-justification is constantly under barrage from reality. Try to suppress it all you want, but in the lonely dark nights when you are tired and alone it will come whispering out like a ghost to remind you that you hurt another person. This happens no matter if you really were justified or not. It is only 1) by having and adhering to legitimate and established external standards regarding justifiable and judicious use of force and 2) a clear conscious that you did not help create the problem 3) a consistent moral and ethical code that you adhere to that you will be able to fight off these ghosts.
However, if you participated in the creation of the problem, if you were doing things that you know you shouldn't have been doing or added fuel to the fire, part of you will know that you are guilty of hurting another person when you didn't need to. Part of you will know that you hurt someone out of a willful, selfish and mean-spirited choice. You can tell yourself any lies you want to about this, but as the years go by, these ghosts will pass right through them, time and time again until you admit this fact. Unfortunately, the other option is that you sink further and further into self-justifying behavior until you literally isolate yourself from normal society. The only people who surround you are equally troubled, delusional and angry people.
Whereas, if you have done everything in your power to prevent the violence from occurring and your attacker insists on continuing in an attack then the justification for the use of force comes from another source than just yourself. Unlike the false standards of self-justification, because these standards are both outside and bigger than you, they have the power to turn on the lights and banish ghosts in the night.
Self-defense has very little to do with physical confrontation. It really is about taking responsibility for your life. And that responsibility happens long before you ever find yourself in potentially violent situation. Done right, and you won't find yourself in such situations.
People tend to define themselves in certain ways. Whether these definitions are accurate or not is not really germane. What is important is how tenaciously we cling to these ideals. While in many ways we can justify and rationalize countless subtle breeches of these "standards," behavior that drastically flies in the face of "who we think we are" will be strongly resisted. Few people realize how powerful this resistance is. That is because most of these resistances are subconscious. We never cross them because within our minds that way is closed.
If your self-definition is that you are not a violent person, you are going to have trouble defending yourself -- whether this is an accurate definition or not.
If you are emotionally/verbally violent person who hides behind a self-definition of "pacifism" you are literally "playing in the middle of the highway." Your violence will attract violent people to you, your "unconscious" behavior will give them the excuse they need and then your self-definition won't allow you to effectively defend yourself. In other words, you are victim.
If you actually are not a violent person you will have a different set of troubles. That will be that you will try to be reasonable for too long. There are established danger signs that when they are all present, the time to talk and be reasonable has passed. Furthermore, while we tend to automatically assume that the person we are dealing with is in someway rational and reasonable, this is exactly what someone who uses violence to get what he wants is relying on you to do. He knows that as long as you are seeking to be reasonable, he can easily get his way by being "unreasonable." He does this by acting faster and to a greater extreme than what you either expect r are willing to do. When this occurs, you are left floundering in trying to find a reasonable compromise, while he is attacking.
We have a saying: It is unreasonable to believe that all situations can be resolved reasonably.
In circumstances like this, being willing to be just as unreasonable is the only reasonable response. The reason for this is simple, he is relying on you to hesitate and seek a reasonable compromise. He will exploit this desire to find another option to his advantage. In fact, this hesitation on you part is integral to both his strategy and his success.
In either case, when you see the "danger signals" you must be willing to drop your perception of "you," its comfort zones and assumptions about the world in order to do what must be done. After the problem is over, then you can "revert" to your normal way of doing things. You don't have to stay in this "perceptual mode," you literally just drop into a different mode, do what is necessary and then shift out again.
We liken this to parenthood. Often you will note that people who are not parents have strong negative reactions to vomit and feces. But anyone who has raised a child knows they are going to get splattered. It isn't pleasant, but you know the job has got to be done so you deal with it and keep going. What's more, is that you know that the sooner you deal with it, the sooner it will be over and done with so you can return to normal.
Who we are is constantly changes anyway; even if we are not aware of it. You are a different "person" at work, with your spouse, with your children. Each "persona" requires you to "wear a different hat." It is the collection of these different personas that make up who you really are. Not who you tell yourself who you are.
Making the choice to defend yourself isn't going to destroy who you think you are. All it is going to do is add on another dimension to who you are. The weight of your other personas will determine who you are in every day life. This will just help you function under abnormal circumstances until things return to normal.
Violence NEVER Solved
Anything ... oh yeah?