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When Douglas Fry studied two neighboring Zapotec villages in the 1980s, he came up with some fascinating data about peacefulness and violence. In both villages the people articulate ideals of cooperation, respect and equality and they disapprove such antisocial actions as stealing, adultery, and physical violence. However, the residents of the more violent community believe that it is natural at times to act violently, that killing a rival for reasons of jealousy is understandable, that sometimes aggressiveness is justified, and that fighting when people are drunk is normal. Sometimes people are just that way. Children who are raised in that more violent village frequently hear adults admitting that violence is a part of life. They grow up without a consistently peaceful view of their community.

By contrast, the people of a nearby, much more peaceful, village consistently express the view that their community is nonviolent, that no one fights there, that they are cooperative, never jealous, and respectful of others—views which the children hear constantly as they grow up. Thus, the children in the two communities absorb the differing self-images and learn by example the way adults treat one another—to build up grudges and feuds and to escalate disputes into violence, or to approach human relationships peacefully, taking great care to avoid aggression. One of Fry’s outstanding articles (1992a) about those two villages has just been added to the Archive in this website.

In this article, he makes it clear that there are significant differences in observable levels of adult aggression between the two Zapotec towns. In the more violent town, teenage males normally engage in roughhousing, while the ones in the more peaceful town do not. Sometimes teenagers in the former village have serious fights, but they rarely do in the peaceful community. Men in the violent village greet one another with slaps and punches, have mock fights, swear at one another, and steal and hide each other’s hats. Men in the peaceful town do not engage in this kind of rough behavior, and they refer to the inhabitants of the other community, condescendingly, as unfriendly barbarians.

Children in the violent town see adults engage in fist fights when they are drunk, which only occurs rarely in the more peaceful village. The author observed instances of wife-beating in the one town but not in the other. The men of the more violent village assume their wives will have sex with other men any time they can, so they try to control them through fear and force. The women of the more peaceful village do not have to deal with this problem very often, since they are respected and treated as equals by the men. Husbands who do show jealousy are condemned by community gossip, which the children hear.

Parents in the more violent village discipline their children with corporal punishment, since they view children as naturally unruly and mischievous. Parents in the more peaceful community use far less corporal punishment. They favor talking with children who misbehave in order to correct and educate them with love. They recognize the importance of their own good behavior in setting the right example for the behavior of their children. Fry observed many instances of parents beating their children in the violent community, but none in the peaceful one.

Fry’s research shows that Zapotec children differ in the nature of their aggressions toward one another depending on whether they were raised in the violent village or the peaceful one. In the more violent one, he found, their aggression consisted of physical attacks on other children; in the peaceful village, they tended to engage in threatening behavior and, in many cases, to restrain themselves from aggression. The author’s data also indicates that the rate of aggressiveness in children appears to increase in the more violent village as they grow older, and to decrease with age in the more peaceful village.

The author concludes that the people of the more peaceful Zapotec village have strong ideals, beliefs, and values that condemn violence, while the inhabitants of the more violent village do not. This difference affects the attitudes that their children adopt. He tentatively identifies factors which might have contributed to the differences in attitudes toward peacefulness and violence in the two communities. In the more violent town, the farmers own smaller areas of land than the ones in the more peaceful town, which may contribute to greater competition, tensions and hostilities.

Also, in the more peaceful town, the women have been producing pottery for generations, thereby making significant contributions to their household incomes. This has fostered a respect by the men for the women and a strong value for their contributions. There is nothing like this in the other town, where the men have been the primary wage-earners from working in nearby mines. These factors may have produced less spouse-abuse in the peaceful town compared to the other one.

A third factor may have been the presence of outsiders in the more violent town, people associated with the nearby mines, who could have influenced the development of aggressiveness in that community. Fry has analyzed his careful, scholarly data and produced, in this article, an outstanding contribution to the study of peacefulness and violence in human societies.