Modern society has a very complicated relationship with violence. The highest grossing action movies tend to be about the destruction of an enemy through brute force. I remember as a child going to the movies to watch karate movies, they had a common thread of vengeance. A child would for an example lose both parents through cruelty of an antagonist and throughout the length of the movie, the child would meet a guru who would teach them ancient karate moves about how to kill. The movie would end in a confrontation between the antagonist who had even forgotten that they’d hurt someone, and the protagonist who had spent the last 11 years of their lives planning this one moment, where they visit the wrath of God on an enemy, leading to death. We would all cheer wildly when the antagonist died. It is a movie formula that worked. There was something righteous about the violence, something we all approved of.
But imagine if this is how we all chose to deal with conflict. Imagine if from the moment we are wronged, we go away to plot and plan vengeance. This eye for an eye mentality would leave the world blind. The movies that children are exposed to frame the ways they relate to violence. I have never seen an action movie where the hero uses their righteous designation to defuse a situation. In the final scene there are always guns blazing instead of sitting across from someone who has wronged you, explaining how the violence has negatively impacted you and therefore ending that cycle of violence. The picture I’m imagining sounds unrealistic, it speaks of a utopia that does not exist. But at the end of the day , after all the world’s worst conflicts, like both world wars, there needed to be the moment where both sides sat across from each other, put down their weapons, and negotiated to plot a violence-free future.
Society’s complicated relationship with violence starts in the home. Every sane person can agree that if a couple has a difference in opinion it would be wrong for the husband to convince the wife to come to his way of thinking by punching her in the face. Domestic violence involving couples is universally condemned, rational beings realise that asserting your opinion on another by violating them physically is wrong and creates resentment. However there is a type of domestic violence that is thoroughly accepted. Parents hit their children in order to assert their dominance and discipline over the child. There are tens of thousands of adults who were hit as children by their parents. The same adults are walking around crediting the violence for how well they turned out. They do this in order for them to have a turn at using brute force in order to dominate their own children. I would like to assert that children who survive being hit do not turn out well as a result of the violence. They turn out well despite the attack on their bodies and spirits.
I remember being in primary school and in those days teachers could and did hit. They would hit you for anything, any infraction, from having the wrong colour shirt, to not knowing a sum, to not having your book covered. The violence was ubiquitous. In standard three I recall being taught by this teacher who spent the vast majority of her teaching period hitting us. She would hit us for being quiet when asked a question. She would hit us for answering her incorrectly. She would hit us for asking a question she’d already given us an answer to. She would hit us for not asking a question we didn’t have an answer to. After being in her class for four months, a girl who was being hit for probably the third time that morning, caught the teacher’s stick and threw it across the room. The teacher ran out of that room like someone being chased by the hounds of hell. She came back with another teacher, crying hysterically, saying how the girl was attacking her. The thought of being hit was horrific to the teacher, terrifying. This was ironic because it was her favourite thing to do. But because of how the world was set up she saw herself as the giver of violence, never the receiver. It stayed with me for a long time how someone that well-versed in violence could be so scared of being on the receiving side.
I would like to live in a society where violence as an entity is inexcusable. I would like to live in a world where the constitutional law is upheld and no parent can hit a child for any reason. I am parent and every time I have slipped and hit my kids, it was never from a place of love, it was because I was upset and out of control. I knew that my kids were not going to learn anything by being physically violated. I know that I never learnt anything valuable from being hit. At best, violence instils fear. At worst, it sows the seeds of vengeance.
Read here to find out more about a woman’s experience of living in a male-dominated world.
Tell us: Do you think South African people have a healthy relationship with violence? Why or Why not?