Nonviolence is a way of life (Principles of nonviolence 1)

This is a part of series on principles of nonviolence. The ten principles are listed here.

Principled nonviolence holds that nonviolence is both a tactic and a way of life. In order to create social change, individuals need to change and to live lives that create intentional ripples impacting on wider levels of society (Walz & Ritchie, 2000, p. 219). According to Moyer (1999a), “nonviolent social activism is trying to accomplish the gigantic task of transformation from the dominator to the peaceful model of human relationships” (p. 1).

According to the Dominator Model, we live in a competitive world in which we must fight or flight[sic], win or lose, in our relationships with others, especially in conflict situations where we have different needs, opinions, desires, beliefs or goals. This is doubly true when we perceive that we are being criticised or attacked verbally, emotionally or physically. In contrast, according to the Peaceful Model, we need to live our lives at all times according to the universal values and principles of love, compassion, equality, justice and sustainability in our daily relationships, even at those times when we perceive that we are being attacked (Moyer, 1999b, p. 1).

Implicit in nonviolence as a way of life is the recognition that the personal is political, and that wider social change begins with changes in individuals (Burrowes, 1994; Cumming, 1985; Moyer, 1999b; Starhawk, 1990). The Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group (1983) criticises “men in the nonviolent movement, whose theory for defeating structural violence may be impeccable, but whose personal behaviour often remains as violent as any other man’s” (p. 39). The group suggests, “individual men attacking individual women is one end of the continuum of violence which leads inexorably to the international military abuse of power” (pp. 39-40). In discussing the structural violence of patriarchy and sexual oppression, Moyer (1995) suggests that male activists also need to address their own behaviour.

Nonviolent male activists, who have adopted values of equality and justice, normally carry out the dominant male role model in more subtle emotionally and verbally controlling behaviours (e.g., unwanted advice, judgments, opinions, argument, presumptions, expectations and passive-aggression, which includes sulking and withdrawal), rather than physical violence. Regardless of which oppressive method is used, its goal is always the same: to successfully compete with others and to get my way (my ideals and beliefs adopted) and have people recognize my status or superior position or authority (p. 2).

Starhawk (1990) uses the image of the self-hater to represent the way in which people are disempowered and discouraged from challenging injustice, structural violence and oppression.

In the dismembered world, in the landscape of power-over where guilt is an endlessly renewable resource, we face the self-hater. We hear the voice of the ruler who has become a voice inside us. Power-over works like sorcery: it casts a spell on us. It changes our consciousness, clouds our vision so that we don’t notice it in operation. It is the magician who distracts us with a rabbit as he saws the woman in half (p. 95).

She argues that in order to create social change people need to become empowered and live in ways that challenge the internalisation of the self-hater.

To heal the world, and heal ourselves in the process, we must understand both how we internalize domination and how we can foster freedom. We must understand how we internalize each aspect of the self-hater and develop techniques for ridding ourselves of internalized domination. We must envision situations of liberation so that we can create them (p. 117).

King (1958) believed that, while nonviolent action helps create social change, it also has an impact on the lives of those committed to nonviolence. “It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had” (p. 219). In order to be truly nonviolent, Gandhi encouraged his followers to develop self-control so that nonviolence became part of their everyday life (Ritchie, 2001). Following Hindu and Buddhist traditions, they were encouraged to be moderate in consumption, practise nonattachment, and to take vows of celibacy and vegetarianism (Ritchie, 2001; Walz & Ritchie, 2000). Modelling themselves on Gandhi, Soulforce activists (part of an anti-homophobia movement) are encouraged to take a vow to control their passions: “I promise to control my passion for food, sex, intoxicants, entertainment, position, power that my best self might be free to join with my creator in doing justice” (M. White, 1999e, para. 59).

Burrowes (1994, p. 1) argues that, as an activist, the personal aspects of his life are vitally important because he believes that if he wants to change the world, he must also change himself. In particular he is attempting to learn to:

  • Tell the truth
  • Deal creatively with conflict in his personal life
  • Respect others more deeply, including refraining from the use of “manipulative, exploitative, coercive or violent behaviour in his personal relationships” (pp. 1-2)
  • Live more simply
  • Nurture himself intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Adapted from
Stuart, G. (2003). Nonviolence and youth work practice in Australia. Unpublished PhD, University of Newcastle, Newcastle.

The reference list will be available after principle 10.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Social change and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Nonviolence is a way of life (Principles of nonviolence 1)

  1. Weena Salvador Meily says:

    Hello Graeme! I am just so thankful for this post. I am from the Philippines and with this “war on drugs” still raging, I can feel so much of the hate and people’s anger and divisive practices. I live in Manila in a House of Hospitality for PLHIV-AIDS (Nazareth House -Catholic Worker Manila) co-founded by the Catholic Worker Movement whose mission is primarily that of peace and non-violence. We are also a LGBTQ-friendly space. So, thank you so much for your blog. This will help me in advancing the advocacy of peace and non-violence. God bless you!


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