I speak a lot about the cultural endemics of violence. In short, I am talking about the disparate views and practices of violence native to different regions around the world. This is something not really spoken about in a lot of training circles, this is most true in martial arts circles.

What you trained for isn’t what you are in for.

How many times have you seen a self-defense lesson in Jiu Jitsu, Krav Maga, Kali or others where the instructor demonstrates the “likely” attack? Likely where? Likely when? Likely how? There are so many unanswered questions. I have spoken about cultural endemics of violence relative to the use of knives on this site as well as in my latest podcast with Justin Flores (watch HERE). But what will provoke people to violence differs as well.

Some societies are “honor” societies. In honor societies a person’s (typically a man) worth and status in society is heavily influenced by whether he is seen to have “honor”. In many Middle Eastern countries as well as Islamic societies a man’s honor can be harmed by the behavior of female relatives. This is so prevalent there are killings of women over this, known as honor killings. The identity of the male of our species is closely tied to this notion of honor.

Know your environment

Typically, these standards of honor are known within that society, however when this honor society collides with a social practice that violates the code without intending any offense, disaster may follow. In my travels I am very hesitant when shaking hands with or otherwise touching women in Islamic societies. This has little to do with protecting the honor of her male relatives, and more to do with protecting her from their wrath if I were to greet her or otherwise touch her in a way they deemed “dishonorable”.

This level of reservation is easy when you travel to a place that is an “honor culture”. As an intelligent traveler you should have done your research about the cultural practices in your destination country (failure to do this can lead to being seen as rude or worse). However, what happens when you are in your own country and encounter someone with different social valuations of honor?

Your smart mouth, their knife

Unknowingly dishonoring someone can lead to sudden and aggressive violence in a social way, where the dishonored party as to reclaim his honor and place in the social hierarchy by striking or grappling you. This can be made much worse if the offense is deemed to warrant more serious levels of violence. In short, your lack of cultural awareness could lead you into a deadly force confrontation you were neither expecting or prepared for.

If violence is the currency, pay attention to perceptions of honor!

An example I use is the murder of Andres Escobar. Andres Escobar was a player on the Colombian national soccer team. In the 1994 World Cup in Los Angeles he scored an ‘own goal’ during a game. This goal likely cost the Colombian team advancement in the Cup. Upon return to Colombia, Andres Escobar was murdered by the bodyguard of a well known member of the Colombian drug cartel, Santiago Gallon. The bodyguard was convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

This murder was driven by the honor culture, especially the hypersensitive variety found in the Medellin and Cali Cartels. Slights of honor are enhanced when the offended party is a high ranking person in a social and economic structure that uses violence as a primary method of communication.

It pays to remember whether you are in a domestic setting or a foreign one that the cultural endemics around “honor” may demand violence in response to what you may consider standard social practices. Identifying what the culture considers violence worthy in your country of destination is good common sense. Developing a general sense as to how different cultures view honor and the role of violence in maintaining it may help you in a broader set of circumstances.

Honor and Violence

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