Counselling in Wokingham – The Bite

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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Why is it not acceptable to bite other people?

bite1Well, of course, all acts of violence towards someone else are not OK. Even accidentally stepping on another person’s toe warrants an apology – and deliberate acts of violence are seen as unacceptable; they are illegal, pretty much throughout the world, I imagine.

But biting someone seems to be worse than other forms of violence, doesn’t it? On the football field players push each other, use their elbows, kick, even sometimes slap or punch their opponents but these acts all seem more acceptable – or less unacceptable – than biting. Why is this?

bite2Historically, violence has been a way of settling disputes. Knights of old would duel with swords, and more recently than that, guns were used in duels. Fist fights too, have been a way of airing and perhaps (on a good day) even settling a grievance. I am sure that there are many other examples from other cultures – and examples that continue to this day. It seems that some forms of violence are honourable – used by “gentlemen”. There were rules about duels, of course, codes of conduct that made them “fair” and today some of these “gentlemanly” forms of violence have become formalised to make them into sports – boxing, fencing, wrestling and many other martial arts – and these sports each have their own boundaries about what is within the rules and what is outside them.

I remember a rugby playing client of mine –a prop I think – telling me a bit about what goes on inside a rugby scrum. He said that there is an understanding between the rival front row forwards about what is allowed and what is not. This is a sort of “gentleman’s agreement” which acknowledges it is permissible to break the laws of the game in various ways under the cover of the scrum – but that certain acts of violence (including biting) are not acceptable, are outside the understood code of conduct.

So, why is biting so unacceptable? I think there are a couple of different factors here. The first is that animals bite. They bite to kill, they bite to defend themselves, they eat other animals. They do not fight with swords or follow the Queensberry rules – it is no holds barred, kill or be killed violence. So biting is uncivilized and barbaric, and of course as intelligent human beings we are above that, aren’t we?

Another point about biting is that it draws blood. Scratching, likewise, is not “fighting fair”, and I think this is because these acts of violence break through the skin, they invade the victim in a way that pushing, or punching or kicking do not. Hitting the surface of someone’s body is less unacceptable than breaking the skin, which seems to be an invasion of the other person’s territory, an intrusion that makes the violence a big step worse – internal rather than external violence.

Have we got this out of proportion? I wonder if the football authorities, in imposing a heavy ban on Suarez, are tacitly acknowledging that some forms of violence are OK. I wonder whether they are, by comparison, being too lenient on other offenders who deliberately break the laws of the game and intentionally try to hurt their opponents.

bite3Outside sport, too, we need to beware of allowing our boundaries to shift. Acts of violence against others are not OK, whether they be biting and scratching or pushing and punching. “I only pushed you” is a denial, a justification of an unacceptable act, which, I would argue, is no better or worse than biting your opponent at football.

About Paul Cockayne

Counsellor, musician, iPhone developer, games-player, cheese-lover....
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