Law professors won't do much overtly, they engage in subtle violence. Often, when we think of violence, we think of the very overt, loud, obvious kind — primarily physical violence, but also in the form of "over the top," very loud, confrontational (and frightening) yelling, screaming or threatening.
But there is also a more subtle and insidious form of "word violence," and this occurs much more frequently because it "goes under the radar" and masks itself as "normal." While it can be easily dismissed or overlooked because of its quieter presentation, it can do serious damage none-the-less, by
1) creating stress
2) fostering oppression
3) deflating motivation
4) curtailing creativity
5) eventually leading the way to more overt forms of violence.
In individual interactions, one who uses the power of words in subtly violent ways may be doing so consciously, in a purposeful effort to manipulate, or unconsciously, out of his or her "unexamined Shadow." Examples of subtle "word violence" can show up as malicious gossip, passive-aggression, purposeful withholding, inconsistency, incivility, and bullying, to name a few.
(A) In the case of passive-aggression, "word violence" can manifest as a result of the passive-aggressive's strategy of saying one thing while intending and doing another. For example, a person with a tendency to act passive-aggressively may give agreement or approval while in conversation with you, but then take a different course of action than the one you agreed upon, fail to participate altogether, or actually sabotage your effort by withholding information or brewing discontent or confusion. When you confront a passive-aggressive about these behaviors, he or she will deny them outright, or even deflect accusations or blame back at you. In these ways, his or her choice of words — or the choice to withhold certain words — can be a form of subtle violence.
(B) Someone who consciously withholds is practicing another form of "word violence." A withholder may elect to withhold praise, feedback, agreement, or information for the purposes of gaining some measure of control or having some specific impact on you. Withholding may be a tool used by a passive-aggressive person, or may simply be the communication-control strategy of choice. Either way, withholding can escalate from lower-impact word-violence to a form of mental abuse. By withholding praise, feedback, support, or information, for example, the withholder increases his or her odds of "throwing you off-balance" and thus making you feel uncertain about what you're doing. When professors withhold praise or other information, his or her students are unclear on their priorities, and would most likely suffer greater feelings of insecurity, lower morale, and general stress.
Withholding draws its power from the imprinting of an authoritarian system, in which people have been trained by more overt communications — including body language — so that ultimately the overt words or facial/body expression are no longer needed in order for the person in the perceived position of authority to manipulate the situation to his or her advantage. In an interaction in which this dynamic is present, a person simply chooses to withhold at certain points in the conversation, thus triggering deeply held patterns. The ideal outcome in the withholder's mind is for the other person to capitulate his or her will and succumb to or "fall into line" with the withholder's desires or interests. Unless the other person consciously disentangles him or herself, the cultural patterns will tend to play out in the withholder's favor, which is why he or she uses this strategy.
(C) Inconsistency can be another form of "word violence," particularly if a person is aware of — or consciously chooses — inconsistency as a means to an end (usually a feeling of control). Someone who is inconsistent may tell you different things at different times, or tell different things to different people, thus creating confusion and uncertainty. For example, the inconsistent person may give an assignment, and then when the other person is well along with the work and checks in regarding progress, may blithely say, "Oh that. We're not doing that anymore. Didn't I tell you?" Another manifestation of inconsistency is when a person "runs hot and cold" — being friendly and supportive one minute, and distant or curt the next, with the effect of keeping others in a state of perpetual imbalance. One common saying for this manifestation is when a person "pulls the rug from beneath your feet." Inconsistency can also escalate from mere unskillfulness to a type of "word violence" if an individual repeatedly and consciously demonstrates inconsistency between what he or she says or demands and what he or she actually does or models.
(D) Incivility can be another form of "word violence" that includes passive-aggressive behavior, withholding, inconsistency, bullying, and other forms of communication and behavior that most people would identify as rude, uncooperative, hostile, or insensitive. Examples of chronic incivility might include not returning phone calls or emails, not complying with requests, lying, blaming, extreme curtness, or withholding information or support. As with other forms of "word violence," incivility can escalate into more overt forms of violence, and, at a minimum, jeopardizes enjoyment, satisfaction, and overall well-being — each of which affects an individual's ability to participate fully and to the highest of his or her capability.
(E) When "word violence" occurs in the form of bullying, it can begin to seem less covert and start to appear on the radar of either other individuals or, depending on the impact or results. Bullying may include overt hostility in the form of yelling, name-calling, baiting, or belittling; or it may include the more subtle but no less insidious forms of "word violence." Derisive comments — including those which are veiled as humor or friendliness — are also a form of bullying and incivility. Typical examples include comments or "jokes" that derisively refer to gender, spiritual practice, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, or perceived intelligence. One clue is that such comments or "jokes" aren't funny, and are often intended to diminish or make someone uncomfortable, or sow seeds of dissention and create factions — none of which are productive by any definition in any kind of group or organization. Interestingly, the conscious withholding of a comment or feedback that most average people would consider a norm can also be a form of bullying — in this case, the bully is manipulating another by purposely withholding approval or agreement.
"Word violence" can be so insidious that, over a relatively short time, the standard falls dramatically and yet what is considered "normal" or what is tolerated increases, creating an increasingly vulgar, crude, and cruel culture. So incivility and "word violence" soon become a new "norm." Systemic or organizational violence — a feature of "corporate psychopathy" — ultimately comes down to various individuals choosing to act in a way that is uncivil, violent, manipulative, or otherwise disregarding of the ill-effect on others or the common good.