The Jian Ghomeshi scandal is no longer front and centre in the media but it remains troubling and thought-provoking. Will it have any lasting impact on how we handle violence?
What is acceptable and unacceptable violence? Ghomeshi, a popular Canadian radio host, admitted on Facebook he enjoys violent sexual relationships, albeit he claims, ones that are consensual. When both parties in a sexual relationship agree to violence is it acceptable? How do we decide when sexual violence is no longer consensual or has gone beyond acceptable limits? How can we be sure violent behaviour in the bedroom doesn’t lead to violent behaviour outside of the bedroom? Ghomeshi referred to the novel Fifty Shades of Gray in his Facebook post. It seems there are shady grey areas between violence and non-violence to navigate in the sexual arena.
Violence is considered acceptable in many spectator sports like football and hockey. Players consent to giving and receiving a certain amount of violent treatment during a game. They think they’ve drawn a line. There are officials who penalize players for overly violent behaviour on the field or ice. Yet participants are still violently injured in these sports and players do get away with supposedly illegal violence during a game. Recent events in the professional football world, demonstrate that some athletes take their violent game behaviour into their relationships with partners and children. There are shady grey areas between violence and non-violence to navigate in the sports arena.
Violence is considered acceptable in military engagements. Soldiers realize they will receive and carry out violence as they perform their duties. This violence will at times result in deaths among military combatants. They think they’ve drawn a line. They will not perpetrate violence against civilians. Yet people other than military personnel are almost always killed during combat just because of their proximity to the violence. I cannot imagine having to make the difficult choices we expect members of the military to make, and I have nothing but sympathy for the sacrifices of their families. Statistics show mental illness, alcoholism, divorce and suicide rates amongst men and women who have been in combat are higher than for the general public. Could adjusting to life in situations where violence is not acceptable be challenging after spending time in a situation where it was? There are shady grey areas between violence and non- violence to navigate in the military arena.
What about the worlds of literature, film, gaming, music and art? We know when we choose to expose ourselves to popular culture we can expect to witness some measure of violence and perhaps participate in it vicariously. How much violence is acceptable and how does engaging with it impact other areas of our lives? There are shady grey areas between violence and non-violence to navigate in the entertainment arena.
We tell children violence on the playground is unacceptable. But their cultural idols engage in violent sexual relationships. Their sports icons demonstrate violent behaviour on the playing field. Their country’s military heroes engage in violence on the battlefield. They are surrounded by violent images in popular culture. Is it any wonder that sometimes they find shady grey areas between violence and non-violence difficult to navigate in the playground arena?
What should society do? Make violent interaction illegal and unacceptable in every area? Is that even possible? Are zero tolerance policies the answer? Can they work? How do we navigate the shady grey areas between violence and non-violence? There are no easy answers, but the Ghomeshi case clearly illustrates the need to shed light into the shady grey area between violence and non-violence so it becomes easier and safer to draw a line between the two.
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