The World Health Organization defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”
As a culture we tend to focus on visible expressions of violence, especially if they’re close geographically or close in terms of being relatable to our personal lives. We think out loud how terrible it is, perhaps grieve for the affected people and wonder how an individual or group could be so twisted that they spatter our world with such destruction. Wars, terrorist activities and shootings are noticed while the root causes from which these acts grow often go unnoticed.
According to “The Hunger Project” malnutrition contributes to more than a third of child deaths every year. If we’re honest with ourselves the fact that 2.6 million deaths per year happen isn’t because we don’t have enough food. It isn’t because we lack the means to distribute the food. It’s because our energies are pointed elsewhere. Our inaction toward real needs is the reason underneath the destructive outcome. In this respect, inaction is the vehicle of violence. When needs are not met, destruction results. As humans we have more than physical needs, we also have an array of social needs. When these needs are unmet the result is destruction which takes many forms. Destruction resulting from hunger can take the form of ill health and death or other forms such as social violence. If we don’t recognize that failing to meet our nutritional needs in all areas, including social, we will never truly address the real issue. We will simply rearrange our focus from one symptom to the next without ever addressing the cause.
Arun Gandhi who spent his life on concepts of nonviolence said two things that apply here to understanding the contribution of inaction toward violence. He said; “We often don’t acknowledge our violence because we are ignorant about it” and “it is passive violence that fuels the fire of physical violence”. We can look at a relatively mild example of violence such as graffiti to examine how this process works. Youth starving for significance and constructive social connections will express themselves with wall art that could be considered a violation of the public or private property of others. Alienation, a lack of purpose and the expressions of the lack of the worth of human life gets telegraphed as a clear message by what we pay attention to, and also by what we do not pay attention to. Taking it further, predatory gangs and the violence associated with it stems from not having a constructive means of expressing and experiencing communal belonging. In other words; violence in communities is often the outward symptom of an unmet social hunger.
It should come as no surprise that starvation compels creatures act in some way to satisfy that hunger. If there is no means to satisfy the hunger constructively, or if the pathway to satisfy it is not understood, violent behaviors result. Violence in many ways is frequently an expression of some form of unmet hunger. Whether that expression is a body in the process of violently consuming itself, or maladaptive social expressions, the core is still destruction. If we are not attentive to satisfying our real needs we will continue to see expressions of destructive behaviors. While some issues can fall outside our capacity to control and the illustrations here represent only part of a larger picture, there is certainly room for improvement if we recognize that the seeds of violence grow in the soil of apathy.