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What is Nonviolence?

by @ 10:00 pm on Saturday, February 25, 2006.

Q: What is Non-Violence?
The term ‘nonviolence’ refers to philosophy and strategies that aim to de-escalate violence and transform conflict. Two of the most visible strategies for addressing conflict in the world today are using violence or capitulating to violence. Both strategies fail to addresses root causes and often make situations worse.

When we speak about nonviolence, what we are really speaking about is an emerging field of practice called peace building. In the field of peace building, proven methods are used to treat and transform conflict at its root.

Nonviolence is probably most distinguished from violence by the attitude it maintains towards its opponents. While the violent approach verbally or physically assaults an “enemy” in pursuit of its ends, nonviolence maintains a positive regard for the person of its opponent on all levels, even while energetically standing against the opponent’s position.In a February 1957 article in Christian Century, King summarized the basis of nonviolent direct action in the struggle for civil rights:

1) This is not a method for cowards; it does resist. The nonviolent resister is just as strongly opposed to the evil against which he protests as is the person who uses violence. His method is passive or nonaggressive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent. But his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken. This method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually; it is nonaggressive physically but dynamically aggressive spiritually.

2) Nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

3) This method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who are caught in those forces. It is evil we are seeking to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil. Those of us who struggle against racial injustice must come to see that the basic tension is not between races. As I like to say to the people in Montgomery, Alabama: “The tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory it will be a victory not merely for 50,000 Negroes, but a victory for justice and the forces of light. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may happen to be unjust.”

4) Nonviolent resistance avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.

In Stride Toward Freedom there is a chapter called “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” in which Dr. King discusses Gandhi’s influence on him and analyzes the philosophy of Gandhian nonviolence. Excerpts from this chapter follow:

“First, it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight … The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

“A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent … The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

“A third characteristic of this method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil … We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.

“A fourth point that characterizes nonviolent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. ‘Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood,’ Gandhi said to his countrymen. The nonviolent resister … does not seek to dodge jail. If going to jail is necessary, he enters it ‘as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber…’

“A fifth point concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love …

“A sixth basic fact about nonviolent resistance is that it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. Consequently, the believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future. This faith is another reason why the nonviolent resister can accept suffering without retaliation. For he knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship …”

One Response to “What is Nonviolence?”

  1. “replace the lies with truth” » Blog Archive » We Cannot Fight Hate with Hate, We Cannot Change Violence with More Violence Says:

    […] the left of this post you will find Martin Luther King, Jr’s 6 Principles of Nonviolence.   To the top right, you will find more links to information about nonviolence.   Spread the […]

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