The word violence comes from the Latin violentia, itself derived from violentus.
This adjective has its origin in the noun vis, force, taken in Latin from the Proto-Italic *wīs, and before that from the Proto-Indo-European *wéyh₁s. The latter can be traced back to another word *weyh₁-, meaning to suppress, to persecute.
The word violence refers to a destructive power that does not contemplate the other except as annihilation, as opposed to aggression that implies a determined goal. Violence, therefore, is something much more absolute.
When we speak of violence, we normally think of sudden macro-phenomena, explosions of aggression or impromptu catastrophes, but there is also violence ‘that occurs gradually and unseen, a violence of delayed destruction that disperses in time and space, an attritive violence that is usually not considered as violence at all’. Such is Rob Nixon’s definition of the concept of slow violence in his book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.
The concept of slow violence can be well transferred from the world of the environmental humanities to the world of health and health humanities where all too often episodes of micro-violence occur and are repeated over time. Recording and defusing such phenomena is extremely difficult because they are often dismissed by those who suffer them as insignificant in the moment, while in the long term they become real traumas. An example is what happens in old people’s homes, where apart from the physical and verbal assaults that make the news, it happens that residents suffer daily harassment by staff (obviously not always, not everywhere and not by everyone).
Narrative medicine, with its ability to record emotions and recount experiences, can become a very sensitive tool in surveying episodes of micro-violence and slow violence phenomena in the healthcare sector. In fact, through people’s narratives, whether they are patients, doctors or other figures involved in care, narrative medicine can account for slow violence or aggression submerged in the system, bringing to light problems that go beyond restoring the body’s biological balance. In addition, narrative medicine can also be useful for working on the forms of communication and moving it towards non-violent ways.
Thus, the evironmental humanities provide medicine with a new category, that of slow violence, which the health humanities already have the appropriate seismograph with which to register it, namely narrative medicine. The macrocosm of the environment and the microcosm of the person once again intersect.