Non-Physical Violence, Part 2
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. Elie Wiesel
In last week’s reflection on non-physical violence I focused on verbal aggression and how the words we say, write, and even think can wound in ways as bad or worse than physical acts of violence. Verbal aggression, like its physical counterpart, is an active form of violence in that we take a direct action at or against someone with our words, whether or not they are physically present. Verbal aggression can be passed through various mediums including email, social media, gossip, letters to the editor, and face-to-face conversations. Our aggressive and negative thoughts and words, even when not directed at a specific person, contribute to the aggressive and negative energies present in our world. As such, their impact goes well beyond what we may imagine or intend. They are strong energies directed outward, even though they originate from unresolved tensions existing internally. In a very real sense, we are spewing unrecognized and unhealed disappointments and frustrations with ourselves onto innocent and unsuspecting persons, not unlike how injuries occur to victims of random shootings or drunk drivers.
This week I turn the focus to an inactive or indirect form of non-physical violence, one that can be deceptively destructive in its impact, if in less overt ways. This form of violence is neglect. I categorize neglect as inactive in the sense that it is not something directed at another, but something withheld from another. Neglect is a particularly egregious form of aggression because it does not result from ignorance of the need of another. Rather, neglect is the withholding of something we not only are capable of providing, but we also know the other needs what we are withholding. There is a type of withholding due to indifference, as when we withhold something because we do not care enough to acknowledge the need of another. But there is also withholding as an intentional, conscious act. Conscious neglect is often intended to punish another for poor or unappreciated behavior. Neglect can be relatively benign, like the silent treatment couples sometimes impose on each other. Prolonged neglect can have lasting impacts, like when parents withhold attention and affirmation from their children. That sort of treatment results in numerous psychological challenges for neglected children as they enter adolescence and adulthood because they continue needing the affirmation and attention they sought and desired as children, but now their seeking is largely unconscious and often manifests in unhealthy ways.
Author Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), a Holocaust survivor, reminds us that hate is not the opposite of love. The opposite of love is indifference. Neglect actually ratchets indifference up to a high level, which is what makes it violent because the purpose of the neglect is to inflict punishment or revenge on another. Instead of expressing aggression in a physical way, we do so in an emotional or relational way.
Using neglect as an expression of power is a strategy either to gain control over another or to make the perpetrator feel better about themself through the suffering of another. Both motivations are similar to when people use guns for power over others. Our motives are important to examine when we find ourselves intentionally withholding something from another. If someone on the street asks for money for food because they are hungry, I have several choices – I can ignore them (pretending not to hear), I can refuse (perhaps by saying I have no money), I can buy food for them, or I can give them money. Assuming the person is in need, and assuming I am able to give them money or food, either of the first two options could be neglect. If a needy co-worker stops by my desk to visit, I have several options, one of which is to tell them I am too busy to talk. If I am not actually too busy, am I neglecting my co-worker’s need for attention? Am I driving them to a less-healthy alternative to have their affirmation needs met?
In a recent Daily Meditation, Richard Rohr wrote, “Repressing feelings and sensations relegate them to our unconscious ‘shadow’ self. They don’t go away. They come out in unexpected and often painful ways.” Our aggressive behavior toward others originates within, regardless of whether it manifests in physical or emotional violence, or whether it manifests in direct action or conscious withholding of something needed by another. Indeed, violence is all around us, and we are both victims and perpetrators. Because its roots are often in the distant past and because it may not leave visible scars it can be difficult to recognize, name, and heal. Learning to recognize, name, and heal our wounds as well as identifying our own violent, aggressive tendencies is where we must begin.
This is the 11th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and are not intended to imply the agreement or support of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to respond to my thoughts, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.