It's not taught in schools; One doesn't hear about it or watch it on the news; It is not an essential element of our culture and yet it is one of the most powerful forces for social change that ever existed in human history.
Nonviolence is first of all a personal practice and a way of life but got it's reputation mostly as a proven strategy for social change and as a foundation for a culture of peace. The origin of the term, nonviolence comes from the Sanskrit word, "Ahimsa" meaning a non-, without + hiṃsā violence, implying the total and complete absence of violence from one's mind, body & spirit. The term was first coined by Mahatma Gandhi who adopted it as the central principle of his leadership and it became even more popular during the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.
As a personal practice, nonviolence allows us to develop and cultivate inner peace and resilience during times of crises and/or while facing physical, verbal and/or emotional violence; to build our capacity to stay present in situations which evoke fear, anger & helplessness without being dragged into violence ourselves, and to live from the impulse of our vision with courage and the freedom to chose our response.
In the Inter-personal space, practicing nonviolence allows us to create authentic, effective and transcendent communication during conflicts and beyond, to turn an adversary into a friend, strengthen the family and build community.
In society, nonviolence has a track record as an effective strategy for social change; a set of principles, tools and skills which allow ordinary people to challenge well-oiled oppressive systems and to achieve worthy goals without the use of any kind of violence.
Historically speaking, two very well known mass movements for social change chose nonviolence as their motto and used nonviolent actions over time - the movement for the Independence of India under Mahatma Gandhi's leadership, and the Civil Rights Movement in the USA under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. Apart from those two movements, nonviolence was widely used in political revolutions in Eastern Europe, Serbia against Slobodan Milosevic, in the Philippines against the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, in Chile against Pinochet's dictatorship, in Burma, in the struggle for democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and as part of many other campaigns in the field of globalization, environmental, nature reserve, worker's rights, women voting rights, animal rights etc.
Why we do not learn about Nonviolent Strategies in School...
In school, we studied mostly about wars and kingdoms.... We learned absolutely nothing about the 20th century's most notable nonviolent struggles. In fact, the first exposure I had to nonviolence was through my singing teacher in elementary school who chose to teach us the song "I have a dream" which was based upon MLK's speech and thanks to my South African English teacher in high school who shared with us his experience as an anti-Apartheid activist.
In his book, "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" Jene Sharp, a scholar who have been researching nonviolent methods for years, suggests that the notable absence of nonviolence in the main historical research, is a product of the fact that dissemination of techniques which rely on the collective power of active & aware citizens to achieve social justice doesn't serve the interests of the rulers. In addition, he claims that in the mass media and especially on television, it becomes a priority for content providers to evoke immediate emotional reactions in their viewers. Short stories can more easily dramatized violence since it is so accessible to the most primitive and existential instincts whilst nonviolence requires deeper thought, patience and attention. Since most content editors are engaged in presenting stories about violence, it creates a false impression that violence is the ultimate and the only legitimate form of power.
But the truth is far from it.
A Conceptual / Strategic Base
The major concept in the theory of nonviolent strategy is that the power of the ruler / establishment stems from the cooperation of the population and that the state will always have the monopoly on violence. Without bureaucracy, compliance with laws, military or police force which execute the ruler or the state's directives, they are deprived of real power. Nonviolence undermines rulers power by refraining from such cooperation through a variety of ways, among them protests, petitions, huge demonstrations, refusal to pay taxes, civil disobedience, roads blockades, a ban on products, services and / or stores, pirate radio stations, slogans, critical art expression etc...
In contrast to the common myth, most of the groups who use nonviolence as an effective strategy for change, do it without openly claiming to some moral or ethical base. They are not motivated by the desire to be nonviolent themselves or by the desire to achieve peace. They simply want to fight for their rights in a manner that allows them to win. They choose these means since it is reasonable to assume based on power analysis, that in the competition over violence, they would lose. For them, this action is neither passive nor pacifist but simply an effective method to achieve their goals. People can win in a struggle where numbers, commitment and non-cooperation challenges violence. While the urge to vent their anger and frustration might be great, there's nothing brave or strategic in walking right into the lion's mouth.
But when nonviolent struggles for social and political change drew their strength and were inspired by moral & spiritual values, they not only achieved goals, they also were able to empower the lives of people & communities who participated in those campaigns and awaken the conscience of those against whom they struggled in a way that transformed culture & society over time.
There are also these groups who despite commencing their activity with no special regards to spiritual or moral ideas, rise to accept them as their base as a result of the inner empowerment they experience through their activity; a topic worth researching. On the other hand, there are also some groups who use nonviolence as an effective tactic to achieve goals that are not necessarily just and not always moral.
Therefore this website whose slogan is "Tools for Practical Spirituality", advocates for nonviolence which is based on moral and ethical principles and promotes a vision of a safe and free society for all.
A Moral / Spiritual Basis
Contrary to popular myth, nonviolence is not limited to Christian and/or Hindu faith. (I still remember being taken off guard during a job interview at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles sometime around the tail end of the 90th. I was asked, based upon my resume, how I could possible think that I could represent Israel if I believed in nonviolence....).
Nonviolence first draws inspiration from core values of humanist ethics shared by all the major cultures and spiritual traditions of the world. The humanistic moral makes the right of all people to realize our common humanity a priority. It's values, principles and norms, optimally promote the dignity, worth and well-being of every person and act to justly regulate the overall resources, interests and disputes between people - as individuals, communities and nations. Therefore racist perceptions which discriminate people, unjust laws which deteriorate the dignity and value of persons and totalitarian, aggressive approaches which prohibit people to think, speak up and / or act freely, are naturally rejected. This is also one of the reasons in my mind that people who acted based on this universal moral foundation, managed not only to achieve concrete goals but also to drive social transformation, promote awareness and elevate the human spirit. Nonviolence is a movement that transforms not only the social structure but also its participants.
What are those Humanistic Moral Values?
- The Sanctity of Life—Recognition of the sanctity of human life inherent from birth which needs neither justification nor proof.
- Human Rights—A commitment to ensure basic human rights regardless of religion, race, gender, nationality and / or economic status.
- Separating the Deed from the Doer—The main objective of Nonviolence is to challenge underlying causes while confronting the symptoms. Nonviolence attacks forces of evil rather than people who do evil. The nonviolent approach helps to analyze the basic conditions, policies and behaviors which are at the root of a conflict and acts firmly against immoral and unjust deeds and phenomenons rather than against the people who commit them. This doesn't mean that those people are not liable for their actions. They still are. However, the final objective is not the punishment of the offenders but rather the transformation of human society, uplifting everyone to the awareness that can facilitate the unfoldment of an ethical, moral and loving community that honors the worth and dignity of every human being.
- Willingness to Sacrifice—Nonviolence is based on vision, creativity and the willingness to sacrifice in the short run (comfort, time, reputation, money, security etc) in order to achieve long term goals. Even though it is not always necessary in every struggle, the willingness to consciously sacrifice and suffer the consequences without retaliation can help the movement grow, strengthen it's participants and win the sympathy of the adversary.
- Long Term Vision—The nonviolent concept is a general effort to achieve a more reconciled and safe world for all by raising relationships among people to a level where social justice is a superior value and people manifest the human potential at it's best. Unlike military campaigns, nonviolent campaigns empower and uplift the human spirit, sow seeds of hope, allow for healing and reconciliation and call for the expression of a new level of moral, personal and social responsibility.
- The Means are Congruent with the Goal—Applying violent measures undermines the moral basis of the struggle. Nonviolence presents a moral context which states that just and moral means lead to a just and moral outcome. According to this idea, justice and reconciliation cannot be achieved through violence and oppression. It is possible to subjugate the opponent and force him to obey, but we will never succeed in gaining his trust or trust him because naturally we will know that he awaits the moment when he can retaliate. His agenda will be to make us suffer more than we made him suffer. The end then, doesn't justify the means.
- ״The Arch of the Universe Bends Toward Justice״—Human society naturally tends toward a sense of order and truth in the universe. Nonviolence is a positive force which challenges forces of injustice and uses people's spiritual, emotional and intellectual capacities as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
The 3 Stages of a Struggle
The mere choice to use nonviolence as a form of struggle does not necessarily promise success just as the use of violence does not promise success either. In itself, avoiding violence does not yield the desired results. There are requirements for achieving success using this method, just as there are requirements for achieving success through violent means.
In order for a nonviolent campaign to be successful, it must be properly planned. It must have achievable goals that are consistent with the vision of an organized society, a compelling strategy for achieving them and tactics that are suitable for implementing that strategy. It requires organization, training, skills development, self and group discipline, maintaining a high level of energy and perseverance over time. Without these elements, nonviolent action will be merely a protest that can easily be ignored and / or dying out over a short time.
Gene Sharp listed 198 different tactics to promote a nonviolent strategy which can be implemented at different stages of the struggle. Nonviolent struggles usually consist of three stages that rise in degree of resistance and involvement:
(1) Protest, Empowerment and Persuasion that include negotiations, delegations and lobbies, marches, processions and protest rallies, the use of signs, posters, leaflets, slogans, symbols, flags, colors, poems, critical journalism and more
(2) Non-cooperation which is the deliberate and strategic refusal to cooperate with something perceived as unjust by consumers boycott, merchants boycott and citizens boycott (for example, boycotting elections), Refusal to pay taxes, strikes, hunger strikes, creating overload on communication systems, creating alternative communication systems, alternative means of transportation, independent production of products and more ...
(3) Civil Disobedience and / or Direct action in an event which is perceived as unjust and can result in civil disobedience to an unjust law, blocking of roads, entrenchment in a certain place, attachment to trees, trespassing, creation of a false identity and more. (For example, the period of illegal immigration to Israel)
Whether nonviolence draws inspiration from moral values or it is applied as a mere strategy or tactic, it means postponing the use of violence of any kind in order to generate social, economic or political change. Nonviolence is an effective and powerful alternative to the passive acceptance of repression on the one hand, and to the violent struggle against it on the other.
Nonviolence Stands the Test of History
The idea that violence is the only and most effective path of action in conflict situations, does not stand the test of history. History proves that people in all parts of the world living under different regimes, have resolved conflicts and exercised considerable political power through nonviolent strategies and actions.
The nonviolent resistance against the Nazi regime in Denmark saved hundreds of Jews and cost the regime a fortune while lifting up the spirit the people. In 1980, workers in Poland went on strike to demand their right to organize in a free trade union, a precedent in a Communist state. During the same time, Philippines and Chileans overthrew tyrannical rulers who abused the people through the use of nonviolent means & strategies. The nonviolent struggle in South Africa, implemented boycotts and sanctions to weaken the Apartheid government. Towards the end of the 1980s, Eastern Europeans exerted massive civil pressure against communist regimes. In 2000, the Serbs overthrew Slobodan Milosevic after a successful student nonviolent campaign that spread around the country and in the end, enlisted the support of the police and the army.
According to Wikipedia, in 1989 alone, 13 nations with 1,695,000,000 inhabitants experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond expectations. If we add all the countries in which there were large nonviolent movements in the 20th century, the number reaches 3,337,400,000, which is 65% of all humanity! All of that, despite the widespread claim that nonviolence does not work in the 'real' world.