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Northern Ireland.
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Each month we bring you a nonviolence training workshop based on the experience of the Nonviolent Action Training project and INNATE.

[Click here to view print version]

Violence/Nonviolence Spectrum
lWhat is violence? What is nonviolence? This is an opportunity for individuals to explore within a group what they feel are the greatest nonviolent actions/activities and the worst examples of violence, as well as what lies between. It is an opportunity to concretise what nonviolence means. It is also an opportunity, through looking at the 'best of nonviolence' and the 'worst of violence' to assist people to look clearly at where they can be most effectively involved - "If I consider that the greatest form of violence/that the greatest example of nonviolence then I think it is clear where I should get involved......"

Facilitator's notes
0. Any necessary introductions.

1. Workshop overview; the point of the exercise and what we're going to do. Participants should be clear at what point they will be asked to share in the group.

2. Taking one first and then the other, let the group brainstorm different kinds and examples of violence and nonviolence, including the following areas (these are included here as a "facilitator's check-list" so that no important areas are missed - they are not intended for sharing with the group but rather to help the facilitator draw out ideas from them). Write up each brainstorm list on a flip chart sheet to be visible by all.


  • armed violence, locally and internationally, by armies and paramilitary/civilian groups.
  • family violence including child abuse, violence against partners/domestic violence.
  • other inter-personal violence including robbery, mugging, street fights, murder, and rape (the last may also fit in the previous category).
  • structural violence (of unjust economic systems, powerlessness, poverty and effects of poverty, starvation etc).
  • violent action for political causes, reactionary or progressive.

Nonviolent action for peace and justice at a personal or a collective level, locally, nationally and internationally. This can include:

  • work for justice locally,
  • work for peace globally,
  • work for third world agencies and those promoting a just international
    economic system.
  • work to preserve our ecosystem.
  • anti-sectarian and anti-racism work.
  • other work to advance humanity and humanitarianism

Examples of 'violence' and 'nonviolence' should be listed in separate brainstorms. With most people ideas on 'violence' come easier so this is usually best done first, before 'nonviolence'. Particularly with nonviolence the facilitator may need to allow time for ideas to develop and assist the process by pointing to general areas which people might want to consider. While the idea of a brainstorm is to hold off on discussion and assessment of ideas until later, some leeway may need to be given in developing 'nonviolence' examples, if oriented towards expanding the list. The more concrete examples coming up that people are familiar with the better.

Facilitators need to make their own judgement about how long to allow each brainstorm run. It will vary considerably from group to group, but 7 - 12 minutes for each might be reasonable; it can be brought to a halt when the facilitator thinks enough areas have been covered and enough examples generated. The brainstorm sheets need to be left on display for the next part of the process.

3. Each member of the group is asked to draw a rainbow shape on an A4 sheet of paper (or facilitators can photocopy such a shape for everyone); if preferred it can be simply done as a straight line across the page. As individuals, people are asked to fill in a representative selection (say a dozen or fifteen from each brainstorm list) on the "Violence/nonviolence spectrum', going from the most violent on one side (say left - make it clear which) to the most nonviolent on the other (say right). The facilitator can demonstrate what is being asked of people on the flip chart. If there are too many examples brainstormed, the facilitator should clearly state not to try to fit them all in. The time needed should be judged from how people are getting along but something around 15 minutes for this stage may be sufficient.

4. If time permits, members of the group can be asked to form pairs to share what they have chosen as examples of violence and nonviolence, and where they have placed them, and why. This should be one person sharing after the other for perhaps three or four minutes each.

5. In plenary the group then shares where different people have put things. This can be done by asking everyone where they have placed particular items, e.g. 'nuclear war', 'rape', 'anti-sectarian work', 'green actions' or whatever. Or else each person in turn can be asked to share briefly where they have placed things. The latter is more feasible in a smaller group and can perhaps best be done by asking "What most surprised you about where you placed things?".

6. If there's time there can be discussion of items which have been placed in very different positions by people; why did one person put it here, why did another person put it there?

7. Another option is to try to take one or a selection of a few items and try to reach consensus on where to place them. If there isn't full consensus the outer rim of the chart can be used to indicate dissenting views.

8. People can also be asked "Where do you stand in the spectrum?" and "Where would you like to be?" although this may be easier in an 'activist group' where people would already have awareness of issues of violence and nonviolence. This first question can be shared initially on a one-to-one basis, giving each person in turn a few minutes to speak about themselves. This can then be followed by collective sharing of where people would like to move.

9. Concluding remarks; The facilitator may need to point out that this is merely an exercise which is contrasting some very different actions and kinds of behaviour in a way that is not confronted often in everyday life. Its point is principally in bringing our minds to focus sharply on violence, nonviolence, and what can be included within these terms. It may help us to assess where we are, or could be, involved in work for nonviolence, peace and justice. It may be a good idea to do a closing round in the group allowing everyone a very short comment on the workshop (as normal, people can pass if they don't want to say anything).

10. The conclusions of the workshop could be used as the basis of further exploratory work, particularly if there was relative agreement in the group about what issues need to be addressed. For example, the Nonviolent Tactics Workshop (on INNATE website) could be used to explore possible action on a particular issue.

Timing; Absolute minimum of 60 minutes for doing Numbers 2 - 5 above; 90 minutes would be more reasonable; up to 150 minutes or more if doing a fuller programme based on the above.

This exercise was developed by the Nonviolent Action Training project from a 'Peace seekers spectrum' (produced by Joan and William Sinton of Quaker House in Belfast in the mid-1980s) which had categories already filled in from 'warfare' on one end to 'pacifism' on the other.

Copyright INNATE 2006