I was on the train the other day just minding my own business reading a book, when I looked up to see a man mouthing off to another man and his children. The man with children - a red-faced Aussie guy - was getting really angry. I recognised the man who was mouthing off - I'd seen him round before, and knew that he had a mental disability.
The situation ended in violence, with the red-faced Aussie guy following the other man down the carriage, forcefully grabbing him from behind and trying to push him off the the train. The man with the disability managed to escape into the next carriage, after which time a lot of people in the carriage applauded the the other man for his heroic behaviour.
I was quite disturbed: could this man not think of any other means of solving the problem without resorting to violence? Of course he needed to protect his children from the foul and abusive words of the other man - but is wrestling a man with a mental disability and trying to push him off a train the best way?
I ended up asking the man if he knew that the other guy was mentally disabled, and suggested that his violent reaction was inappropriate. Another man opposite me yelled out, "Get of the train, ya stupid woman!"
The red-faced Aussie man said that he knew the man had a disability, but that the man had acted violently towards his children. I said, "Violence begets violence" and he answered, "That's right."
Anyway, I didn't relate that incident to draw attention to my own heroic behaviour, but just to point out that people don't seem to be aware that you can respond to violence without using violence yourself. There are many creative ways that you can deal with a situation so that it doesn't escalate - even if it's simply asking someone why they are acting in a certain way, rather than fighting back. Usually you can avoid a violent situation even before it begins.
But this man had probably not been exposed to such techniques: all he had seen modeled to him, most likely, is what he himself modeled to his children. Violent responses to violence are not only condoned but commended in our society, as we witnessed with the applause that this man received.
I've witnessed lots of other violent situations on trains and around public transport. This is the second I've witnessed involving a person with a disability - the other one was when a Yarra Trams officer came close to beating up a man with a clear mental illness who was acting provocatively. I've also seen burly Met officers crowd around and intimidate a man who then shot up and tried to get off the train, and before we knew it there was blood.
Why are are violent responses so revered in our society, and where are the alternatives?