Violence and Work

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 7 min read

When we hear the word violence, we immediately think of physical assault.

Violence is commonly associated with exclusively cathartic and tangible events that results in bodily harm to another, or property damage. However, this is only the most common understanding and usage of violence.

“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

The World Health Organization definition of Violence

When we better understand the concept of violence, we begin to see it everywhere: in society, at work, and in relationships.

Today, we’re going to explore the concept of violence. It’s important to understand where it shows up, including at work. By understanding violence, we can understand how to stand up to it, and how it can even be used as a tool to dismantle oppressive systems.

Becoming Superhuman requires you to understand violence and perhaps today is the start of that understanding.

What is Violence?

There are many different ways in which violence and power show up in the world and are intertwined.

For instance, is a threat of physical violence still violence if no one is physically harmed? Is it violent to hold a gun to someone’s head, even if no one gets shot? Most would agree that it is. So, we immediately begin to see the mental image of violence break down when we add implied violence or harm to the definition.

Consider that, go deeper.

Norwegian sociologist, Johan Vincent Galtung has a model of violence that expands on our standard usage of violence. Here is a short video where he explains the concept of the violence triangle.

In short, violence is not always deliberate and it’s not always direct. Direct violence is the most visible but is often upheld by structural and cultural violence. These are the systems, structures, beliefs and behaviors that have become commonly accepted, and may implicitly or explicitly endorse or threaten direct violence.

This means that seats of power have the authority and ability to impose violence structurally, culturally, and even directly.

Recent Acts of Violence

beige concrete building under blue sky during daytime

On June 24th, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision that ran counter to what between 60%-80% of the country wanted to happen. In an unprecedented move, they overturned an existing and popular court decision that resulted in roughly half of the country losing rights. Previous overturned cases have typically expanded rights. But there’s more…they have also posted the writing on the wall that they intend to use this new precedent to come for other rights.

Contrary to what many people picture when they hear or read the word violence, the SCOTUS decision was an act of violence. It has direct consequences that will result in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.

This is textbook violence. It is also violence that is directed at specific groups. Just to crystalize it, here are some other recent acts of violence you may have missed.

All of these examples are reprehensible but apparently all-to-common right now.

Violence at Work

Violence happens everywhere, including at work.

person holding brown leather bifold wallet

For example…

  • The prospect of losing your health insurance — not to mention all income — when you lose your job means you are compelled to remain consistently employed in order to survive — restricting access to healthcare, food, shelter, is structural violence.
  • Having your job responsibilities changed and your salary cut without consent is an act of violence.
  • Restricting your employees personal decisions based on your beliefs as a business, is an act of violence. (see: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby)

Anywhere there is a power imbalance and one party has the ability to remove the other party’s options and agency through direct or implied force or coercion, we’re talking about violence.

Why is this important? Why are we spending so much time on this?

Counter-Violence

Whenever a grave injustice and violence is perpetuated against an individual or group, there are always calls for non-violent resistance.

Interesting, isn’t it? Interesting how violence is always supposed to be met with non-violence.

Everyone always invokes the same people: Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, while conveniently overlooking their full body of words and work, the broader context of the time, and the resultant outcomes achieved. In case you missed it, they assassinated Dr. King.

“Don’t rock the boat.”

“Take the high road.”

Etc.

When we better understand the full scope of violence, we better understand power and conflict.

We can also see the following truth:

  1. None of the successful movements were really accomplished by non-violent means, alone. It is often through the use of collective power that movements succeed by inflicting specific types of violence against those who perpetuated the original harm.
  2. Suggesting the exclusive use of non-violent means as a response to acts of violence only serves to create solidarity with perpetrator of the original violence.
man in yellow and green suit holding white and red banner

To that point, when we look at the concept of violence more broadly, we see that there are plenty of ways to use violence without causing bodily harm.

  • A labor strike is an act of economic violence.
  • A walkout is an act of economic violence.
  • A company relocating out of any state that restricts their employee’s right to bodily autonomy is an act of violence.

None of these acts of violence necessitate bodily harm to anyone, though resistance from oppressive forces (police) may ultimately render any efforts to avoid sustaining or causing physical harm unavoidable (see: Memorial Day Massacre). In the best circumstances, cooler heads prevail, discussions are opened, and the harm is dealt with appropriately.

While those at the top of the hierarchy hold institutional power, “the people” hold collective power. If we are to fix the world at work, and the societies in which we live, we must understand the various methods at our disposal to affect change.

Shifting Power

BIPOC have been shouting about oppression and injustices for centuries and have largely been ignored despite meager and modest gains made on the books but less so, in practice. What many people are seeing now, is that everything they’d been saying was and is happening.

Raised fist

Our country was founded on violence. Our places of employment, even the “best places to work,” are inherently instruments of violence if we cannot freely come and go for fear of losing our healthcare or our ability to maintain food and shelter.

Today, I’m not asking you to do anything other than think about violence, and where it shows up across your universe. I’m also asking you to consider whether the calls for non-violent resistance across the various places we seek to facilitate change, is our best strategy.

NOTE: Again, I am speaking about the use of power to restrict the available options to an opposing party in a conflict, specifically in service of accomplishing noble goals and pursuits such as equality and justice. Do not mistake my words as a call to commit acts of physical harm. Organizing, withholding support, or restricting the flow of labor or money is an act of violence that we may want to take more seriously in service of changing our workplaces and our society.

At a certain level, everything is about power dynamics. Our only hope of rendering that statement false, is to dismantle the power structures that restrict our options and create a society that is equitable.

Every single person with a uterus just lost rights a few days ago. We all just lost the right to privacy. If you think you’re not on the list for who is next, you’re either fooling yourself, or you’re one of the folks committing deliberate direct violence against everyone else.

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Resources

National Network of Abortion Funds at abortionfunds.org

How to Show Up For Abortion Access (Google Doc)

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