For as long as i remember, my heroes have been Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King… and now I find new inspiration from across the world that I hadn’t heard before – Bertha von Suttner, Aung Sang Suu Kyi and so many more.
I always wondered what would I have done if I had lived in those times… Would I have shown up? Would I have been willing to risk my safety, losing my freedom? And now here we are in these times with climate change, racial injustice, huge inequality, so many of our systems failing us and people living in conditions where they can’t thrive.
One of the biggest misconceptions of nonviolence is that it is about ‘non-violence’, avoiding tension, a kind of ‘negative peace’ as Kazu Haga says, where we allow injustice for the sake of keeping harmony.
“Nonviolence is not about what not to do. It is about what you are going to do.”– Kazu Haga
Nonviolence is active non co-operation with injustice. It takes courage, showing up to say ‘I will not let this harm or injustice carry on’.
“Peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”– Martin Luther King
Another misconception is that non violence is against violence. I really appreciate remembering Gandhi talking about violence, recognising that non-action can cause more harm than harmful action.
Violence is often an expression of rage and frustration, sometimes following generations of injustice and frustration. Nonviolence is not about silencing or supressing that rage, but in offering an alternative, another way to stand up to injustice.
Nonviolence recognises that ultimately we’re looking to create a world where everyone can thrive, where there are peaceful nourishing conditions that work for all, leaving no-one out – what Martin Luther King called the ‘Beloved Community’. It recognises that if we achieve that through violence, then we will have to do further healing and connection to make a world that truly works for all, knowing “violence can never create, restore or strengthen relationships”. And yet, sometimes violence might seem the only option, and might be better than no action at all.
I’ve recently been reading Kazu Haga’s book ‘Resisting Harm’ (which I couldn’t recommend more!) This follows the legacy from Martin Luther King, Bernard Lafayette and many others around the non violence principles and practices that have been tried in different situations and over many years, and which continue to develop now to respond to the particular scenarios we face.
I have many questions, and it is something I’d love to explore deeply with others. I wonder how this applies to these particular times when often those we are going up against are not the ones directly causing harm, but an intermediary.
I came across nonviolent communication (NVC) several years ago, and it deeply changed my life. Understanding that whatever actions we take are strategies to meet these universal human needs we all have, gave me a different understanding of myself, and it changed my relationships, and the way I take in what other people do and say. It has helped my understanding of violence and why people might act in ways i don’t like.
“Violence is the tragic expression of unmet needs.”– Marshall Rosenberg
There can be concern that with nonviolence we won’t hold people to account. This is what I love about non violence – we can do both! We can have love and compassion and understanding, seek to understand others, be empathic… and at the same time we can act and speak up to say ‘I won’t let this harm or injustice happen’.
We can be strong and loving – these aren’t separate things that can’t coexist.
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If you’re interested in nonviolence, NVC, Beloved Community or anything I’ve mentioned here, I’d love more generative conversations about the potential of training in nonviolence for these times, and also what it doesn’t cover, what might potentially not work in the new scenarios we face, what else needs to be considered. If any of this interests you. I’d love to hear from you, please get in touch!