Reasonable force

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What is reasonable?

By law we are permitted to use 'reasonable force' in order to defend ourselves... But what does this mean? People are apt to interpret things differently.


If you succeed in defeating the attacker and injure them in return, will they take you to court? Will you become the accused rather than the victim? Were your actions restrained?

Self defence

If somebody attacks you, what is your intention? In self defence, your intention is simply to evade the attacker. To avoid being injured. Nothing more than this.
If you are required to incapacitate the attacker, this is unfortunate. Ideally, you avoid causing any damage at all.


People get caught up in notions of offence and revenge, victory and defeat. But these are not the concerns of a Taoist. We just want to exit the situation.


People are not innately evil. An assailant is a pretty messed-up human being. If they were not messed-up, they would not be attacking you in the first place.
Despite the very real danger of injury or death, we must act with compassion towards the attacker.


Compassion does not mean doing anything silly or ineffectual. It means that we avoid the unnecessary use of brutality. If you can talk your way out of a situation - do so.
The attacker may have suffered a serious trauma recently and is drinking too much. Their wife or child may be dead. They might have lost their job. They could have AIDS or cancer.
Life may represent a whole string of failures and defeat.


Beating the life out of the attacker is not going to improve their existence. Consider how a bank treats its customers who go overdrawn...
A person runs out of money and they go overdrawn. The bank notices the debt and charges a fee. So instead of being 20 overdrawn they are now 50. This is hardly considerate or compassionate.

Be reasonable

Reasonable force means that you only do what you need to do in order to defend yourself. This is an ambiguous notion, so be careful.
The best measure is to follow the old Christian maxim of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". In other words - be reasonable. Don't do anything you might regret later.

Not worth the trouble

Dissuading an attacker is often enough. Make them think twice. Wind them. Make them fall to the ground.
Breaking bones and causing serious injury is not good. Suffering a broken bone will cause long-term pain and hardship. This person is a human being. They need to earn a living. Be considerate.
Have some respect. Do only what is necessary and then walk away.

For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.



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Page created 7 April 1999
Last updated 29 September 2019