The concept of non-violence and its dynamics
Non-violence is the practice of being harmless to the self and others, including people, animals and environment under every condition. The practice of non-violence has a wider connotation as it encompasses absolute non-violence of thoughts, words and deeds towards others. Its practice goes beyond abstaining violent behavior or words. It even means superseding the impulse to be hateful. Moreover, it also implies having love for everyone, even for those, with whom we don’t agree or those, who have harmed us.
Non-violence involves a respect and reverence for all sentient and non-sentient beings. For many, it also includes the practice of non-harm to animals and, therefore, the practice of vegetarianism or veganism.
The Buddhists extend this respect for life to animals, plants and even minerals. Jainism also extends this respect for life to animals, plants and even microorganisms. That is why as a respect to our environment, many consider an act of damage to it as an act of violence.
Human beings are basically non-violent as it is our inherent nature. As a matter of fact, non-violence is a learned behavior. Therefore, people can be trained in the practice of non-violent techniques. However, in the currently prevailing circumstances in the society, non-violence can’t offer instant remedies or results but still it is catching on. People, who seek out violence, are in fact very small, though quite effective minority. Conflict of one kind or another will always exist in society but it doesn’t aver that conflict need be dealt with using violence even in dismantling the power structures, or other oppressive social systems.
If we use violence, it means that the situation is controlling us, whereas if we don’t use violence, it means that we are in full control of ourselves in spite of being in the disturbing situation. The practice of non-violence will dynamically influence our personal, family and social life with far reaching implications.
Dynamics of non-violence –
Non-violent action is a technique, by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Non-violent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield powers effectively.
(Gene Sharp, 1973)
Social dynamics -
The concept of non-violence rests on the basic precept that non-violence means winning people over rather than winning over people. Normally, people immediately think of violence as they are hit since they think that they have a right to hit back. They think its okay – an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. This is what they call equal justice. The perpetuation of this philosophy will result in so many blind or toothless people in society. This will result in so much exchange of violence. This so-called equal justice will only promote violence in the society, gradually causing its degradation to its lowest.
Non-violence changes the outlook of the opponent - The concept of non-violence transforms the outlook of people favoring violence to non-violence, which is a positive change for the welfare of the soceity. By not reacting violently to a violent act of a person, we not only preserve ourselves but also preserve the other person. So, non-violence allows the individual to help the other, promoting violence, to recover his or her humanity.
We get programmed for violence - Non-violence doesn’t come easily as we get programmed for violence gradually as we see it being perpetrated around us since our childhood. As a matter of fact, our fundamental nature is non-violent as we are intrinsically born with it. A non-violent struggle doesn’t mean that we have to suppress our anger and fear but transmute them into what Mahatma Gandhi called a power that can move the world. And, in reality, he turned non-violence into a powerful weapon that can be used effectively to fight against any oppressive force.
All can benefit from non-violent resolutions - A non-violent struggle doesn’t mean that a man is against another man but it means that both men are against the problem. There is a way both can benefit from it and grow. Both can make a dispute into a learning experience, resulting into a creative resolution of the dispute. In other words, the more one respects the humanity of the opponent, the more effectively one can oppose other’s injustice.
Delay can hamper resolutions - The sooner we respond to a dispute non-violently, the lesser we will have to suffer to resolve it. The delay and inaptitude in responding actively to the dispute will delay its creative resolution.
It is a strong force to bring about a social change - Non-violence is a force to be reckoned with. In dynamics of social relationships, power depends on continuing obedience. When people refuse to obey their rulers, the rulers’ power begins to crumble. In routine social life, this truth is normally obscured. But the oppressive regimes cannot be understood without it. From the conventional viewpoint, heavily armed rulers hold all the cards. They can arrest protesters or, in more extreme instances, have them shot or killed. Non-violence can actually be used as a weapon against such oppressive regimes or authorities. In fact, it has been used quite successfully in the past to avert internecine feuds in many countries. Such planned non-violent campaigns depend on defining goals and objectives, choosing strategy and tactics, making contingency plans, training, etc. Non-violence can be an effective way of mobilizing the strength we have for maximum effectiveness. When such a campaign becomes effective, there is a non-violent clash between leading activists and leading opponents. And the success of the campaign depends upon the strength of the activists, which can be increased by winning over or at least neutralizing uncommitted third parties. With increasing strength of the activists, the opponents are likely to crumple down sooner or later.
The non-violence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation, whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate a mental and, therefore, a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant's sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance.
Mahatma Gandhi –
Individual dynamics –
We sometimes wage war of words in day-to-day life that, in some instances, escalates to violence. If we don’t react with violence in these situations by showing some patience, they will not lead to further violence, but instead our patience will diffuse them. Finally, the person resorting to violence will come to realize one’s mistake when his or her humanity awakens.
Violence begets violence - We all have faced some violent action of any kind on an individual level. And, in most of situations, we have either reacted to it violently or thought of reacting so. If we didn’t react violently, we had to exert tremendously to control ourselves. But afterwards we did realize that we had been wise for not doing so, as it avoided the escalation of the violent action. We know that violence begets violence, whereas non-violence doesn’t promote further violence.
Non-violence can transform others - If we individually don’t react violently to a violent action, it doesn’t mean that we are meek and submissive; we may think that non-violence will encourage the perpetrator of violence to do so further. In fact, it requires lot of mental strength to resist a violent act with non-violence. But there are non-violent means to convey to the perpetrator that his or her action is unjustified. Sooner or later, the perpetrator is bound to come around to realize the mistake. This realization may make him or her to think before committing violence in future.
Non-violence benefits all – Sooner or later, an individual indulging in violence will come to realize that violence doesn’t result in creative resolutions of the disputes but instead complicates them more. On the contrary, the individual will realize that non-violence will benefit all involved in a dispute, if they try to reach an equitable solution.
Delays can escalate a situation - Even in personal disputes promptly responding non-violently to them will help all in reaching amicable solutions. Delays in responding to the disputes will let them continue simmering with an undercurrent of anger in all concerned. Therefore, prompt proactive response to the disputes will prevent them from further escalation. Spiritually speaking, the unexpressed anger against anyone also means an act of violence because, in the first place, it hurts the person nursing anger or hatred against others. And hurting oneself is also violence.
Opposition to non-violence -
There are ample examples in the world, when violent actions have been taken in preference to non-violence. There is a group of people with a greater capacity for violence such as armies of Military services, who win over those with less capacity for violence. Such people argue that if violence is used by bad guys – the enemy, terrorists or criminals, it is bad but when used by good guys, it is good. Such people support revolutionary warfare. They believe to use armed struggle to achieve a good cause. They further argue that a revolutionary cause that benefits majority of people in the society is a good one. Nevertheless, it is difficult to decide, which cause is good or which is bad because, generally, people view a cause differently. But they believe that a cause that is supported by masses is worth for armed struggle.
Notwithstanding, it is significant to note that, in the aftermath of a violent struggle, there is more violence as some groups try to gain control of the outcome of the struggle to seize power that may result in further violence. On the other hand, it is also significant to note that a non-violent struggle may also be interspersed with stray incidents of minor violence. Depending on the leadership qualities of the crusader leading the non-violent struggle, such minor incidents of violence can easily be controlled.
From the history of different countries, it is evident that both violent and non-violent struggles have been waged to topple the oppressive structures of power. But the non-violent struggles have been more successful in achieving the goal because it allowed widespread participation of people, including women, children, elderly and even those with disabilities. Further, a nonviolent action is empowering for participants, promoting feelings of capability, solidarity and satisfaction. Greater participation means greater empowerment. That is why there are more chances of success. A non-violent struggle doesn’t result in much damage to the public property and life. Opponents, by not being physically harmed, are implicitly accorded a certain respect.
When violence is used against non-violent protesters, this is widely seen as unjust, and can lead to a major reaction against the violent attackers, a process Sharp calls political jiu-jitsu.
Mahatma Gandhi was the key figure in creating awareness of non-violent action as a distinctive approach to social change, principally through campaigns in South Africa beginning in 1906 and then in India from 1915 to1947 till independence of India. One of Gandhi's achievements was to put non-violent action on the agenda as a strategic approach.
The impact of success of non-violence in achieving political ends by Gandhi was tremendous worldwide. It inspired many across the world to adopt active non-violence as their own public philosophy. It contributed to the emergence of several NGOs worldwide devoted to disarmament, economic development, green movement and dialogue between religions.
A pertinent question arises that if a goal can be achieved by using non-violent means, then why to use violence.
In personal life, we find that the practice of violence only results in further violence, thereby further complicating the problematic issue that was being tried to be sorted out with violence. So, it appears that non-violent action is a pragmatic approach to solving problematic issues in personal life.
Considering from the wider perspective of the true meaning of non-violence, it is noteworthy how much we humans use violence against our environment!
A spiritual dimension can also be added to the practice of non-violence by following a precept of the ancient Indian philosophy of Tantra yoga, which doesn’t tell you not to fight or argue but, on the contrary, it says – fight if you need to; argue if you need to but do it within a context of understanding that we are all part of the same fabric.