I bet most of us agree that there is usually a net overall loss when one person forces another person to do a thing. Sometimes, though, people “expand” the definition of force to include not doing a thing. What?!


A person in need came to you asking for [food, love, listening, etc] and you didn’t give it to them or you gave them less than they wanted. You greedy bastard!

Or… maybe you had just enough for you and your family at that time.

The person in need ended up dying or killing himself. The death might not have happened if you had given them the thing. Therefore, you caused their death. Really?

One I hear often

If you are an employer who, for whatever reason, chooses not to hire a person, you are forcing them to not have a job and therefore, in the wrong. Or this one: If you fire a person, you are forcing them out of a job and again, in the wrong.

Another example

“Hey can you give me a loan?”

Response: “Sorry. I don’t have enough extra right now.”

“Then you are forcing me to take it from you.” or “You leave me no choice but to rob you.”

Who is the person really using force here? Who is attempting to disguise their use of force as justified because they say the other one was the first to use force?

She made me do it

Maybe those examples are too easy. Let’s try something more difficult

Speaker unknowingly gives inaccurate information to Listener. Listener, using that information, is harmed. If we have a general rule that physical interaction must occur for there to be responsibility for harm, you might say people using fraud, lies, etc., might get away with all kinds of indirect harm! You would be correct. Which is why I imagine any system built upon the idea above about physical force would always allow people to make accusations about anything they believe to be harmful and be heard. For example, if a person committed fraud, whether intentional or not, the Listener or his/her estate would have cause to at least bring the Speaker to mediation, arbitration, and/or [hopefully private] court.

So yes, there will always be grey areas. Including where the accused person, of any kind of force, will claim innocence. So, of course, we’ll need [hopefully private] judges, peers, etc., to render decisions.

Does it serve us to include not doing something as “force”?

(1) It undermines responsibility. If we can say that a person not doing something is forcing us to do something then we can more easily say we had no choice and thus, no responsibility because we all know that when we are forced to do something, we have no say. Under this premise, no one is ever responsible for what they do. Yay clown world!

(2) It undermines power/clarity around using the word “force”. When force is clearly defined, we can more easily draw lines about what our rights really are. We can say, “Initiating force is wrong (and/or unproductive),” and easily solve many kinds of disputes merely by asking who was the first in this conflict to initiate (start) with force.


So: if “force” is blurry and can even mean not doing a thing, then we can not rely on the term “force” to be used for coming to agreement on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We would be in an endless cycle of mis-attributing responsibility like, “Well, there was that thing that person said to him that certainly contributed to his bad mood and we might even say it forced him to pull the trigger…”


“But when you place 100% responsibility on a killer, for example, you are ignoring too many of the reasons why he did it and thus, not addressing the issues of psychotropic drugs, bad parenting, a lumpy bed, barking neighbor dog, etc.”


Great point. We definitely want to learn from these things so that we can think up ways to treat root causes in our systems and cultures. Just because we want to be clear in who to hold responsible for an act does not mean we ignore contributing factors. Please keep in mind, when we have a choice to look at an actor as having power over himself and his actions OR to put the responsibility on those around him, who are we serving best now and in the future? Who are we empowering and disempowering?

Will there be exceptions? I’m sure there will be, but isn’t throwing the baby out with the bath water, kind of counterproductive?