'Nonviolence' can be chosen
'because it works'; it can be the pragmatic adoption of particular
tactics - tactics which people feel are the most appropriate
in particular circumstances, whether that be Eastern Europe
in 1989 or indeed Serbia in 2000, the Philippines in 1986
in overthrowing the Marcos regime, or Northern Ireland today.
The possibilities in a particular situation, including the
fear of military repression or unleashing counterviolence,
can be factors in the pragmatic adoption of 'non-violence'
or 'nonviolence'. Usually there is some kind of moral choice
involved - even for those who in other circumstances would
choose violence if they felt it had a chance of succeeding.
But nonviolence is also a moral, philosophical
and spiritual basis - or part of such a basis. It may come
from complete respect for human life. It can come from religious
faith - Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu etc. (see
below on 'The golden rule'). It can be an imperative part
of such a faith. Or it can be a development of such a belief
in relation to the times we live in.
The Golden Rule
Different religions all state one fundamental principle -
that we should treat others as would wish to be treated -
this is sometimes referred to as 'the golden rule'. Here are
statements from just some major religions:
"The nature only is good when
it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its
own self". Zoroastrianism; Dadistan-i-Dinik.
"What is hateful to you, do not to your
fellow man. That is the entire law, all the rest is commentary."
Judaism; The Talmud.
"No one of you is a believer until he
desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."
"This is the sum of duty; do naught
to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain."
Hinduism; The Mahabharata
"All things whatsoever ye would that
men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is
the law and the prophets." Christianity; The Gospel
"Hurt not others with that which pains
yourself." Buddhism; Udana-Varqa.
Christian nonviolence comes mainly from an understanding of
the life and message of Jesus, and the experience of the early
church which was nonviolent for the first couple of centuries.
Gandhi said "The only people of earth who do not see
Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians."
The Christian concept of love is surely incompatible with
death and killing. Christian nonviolence is an imperative
grounded in faith and in the example of the early Christian
community. Today the journey of discovery continues as to
what this means for Christians.
Humanist, Secularist Nonviolence
Many of those who take a humanist, secularist approach also
believe in nonviolence. Developing trust and respect is seen
as a key aspect of making the world a better place, free from
superstitions and ancient enmities which tie people to fear
and violence. Nonviolence can be as much a key part of humanist
thinking as any religious or spiritual approach. Sometimes,
again, people seek to divide people with labels when what
is needed is all people of good will to struggle together
in making for a better future.
Breaking into Cycles of Violence
It would be naive to imagine that nonviolence has an answer
for every problem. But it would be even more naive to advocate
violence in the same way. Nonviolence seeks to break into
and undermine the cycles of bitterness, hatred and violence
which have so characterised our world in the last century
and show no sign of abating in the post-Cold War world of
the 21st century. New situations have spilt over into violence,
as in the former Yugoslavia and various countries in Africa;
other situations are in the difficult stage of transition
from institutionalised violence, as in South Africa after
democracy where racial and economic problems remain as a legacy
from the past.
Building Our Own Base
It is up to us all to build our own spiritual and moral base.
For some this is part of a belief in a personal God. For others
it may be a belief in the power of good, of life, of truth
and particular political ideologies. We all need positive
beliefs to sustain and nurture us and to direct our actions;
nonviolence can be such a code and commitment itself or it
can be part of a wide variety of religious, philosophical,
moral and spiritual belief systems. It can be part of yours!
At the start we used both 'non-violence' and
'nonviolence'. These obviously sound the same when spoken.
We use a hyphen when writing the word to indicate that which
is simply not violent, and 'nonviolence' without a hyphen
to indicate a positive, active commitment to work for peace
and justice without using violence. Our language can sometimes
be inadequate to the task of conveying what we mean. In Latin
America, for example, because 'nonviolence' may not translate
positively, another term used for the same concept is 'relentless
persistence'. It's up to us to develop the terms and concepts
which we feel happy with.
No one said being nonviolent is the easiest thing in the world.
But neither is it the hardest. How and what we believe predetermines
to a considerable extent what we do, how we react, when confronted
with difficulties. Belief and training in nonviolence as a
moral or spiritual basis to our lives can help us to deal
with difficult situations in a way which can help to harness
the power of good which exists, and create the best prospect
for just and lasting solutions to the many problems which
we face locally, nationally and internationally.
Nonviolence is a powerful way of relating to
the world. But it is also a just and beautiful way - a way
compatible with the best of the world's religious and moral
systems. We are all brothers and sisters; perhaps nonviolence
can help to deal with the family squabbles we get up to. But
it can help us to remember that no one is an enemy, no one
is a thing, no one is a nonentity. In the words of Tertullian,
"If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies....whom
have we to hate?"
Questions for personal reflection or group discussion:
How does your faith, spiritual or
moral position influence how you see nonviolence?
Do you feel violence can be justified
in certain circumstances?
What do you feel you know about the
nonviolent tradition within your faith or moral tradition?
Why do you think people ignore the
nonviolent implications within their faith or moral traditions?