According to Webster’s Dictionary, “violence” is “1. Swift and intense force.

2. Rough or injurious physical force, action or treatment.

3. An unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws.

4. A violent act or proceeding.

5. Rough or immoderate vehemence, as of feeling or language.”

All of us have heard of, read about, observed, perpetrated, or been the victims of acts of violence. However, what we define or identify as violence very much depends on our culture, our social and economic status, our upbringing, our age, our religion, our personalities, social and psychological needs. Men, women and young people who economically, socially, physically or emotionally harm someone (a mate, friend, family member or stranger) often choose not to define their actions as violent. They may excuse their acts of violence with statements or thoughts such as “spare the rod and spoil the child”; the victims “got what they deserved”; forcing sex on a mate is “a right”; “all is fair in love and war”; it is all right to harass or physically injure someone who is “less than human” because of the victim’s age, sex, mentality, ethnicity, national origin, language, clothing, physical characteristics, religion, sexual preference, etc.

So … is it “violence” when certain people are systematically deprived of jobs, food, clothing, clean water, housing, sidewalks, roads, access for the physically challenged, safe neighborhoods, education, voting rights, health care, childcare, respect and hope? I think it is. But I am fully aware that when it comes to defining violence in our country and beyond, the question will always be “Violence According To Whom?”

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...