There is a commitment to truth and openness (Principles of nonviolence 8)

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

Gandhi’s (1940) autobiography The story of my experiments with Truth attests that the search for Truth was at the heart of his political, social, economic, and ethical thought. For Gandhi, Truth was inseparable from God and universal justice (Beck, 1991; Gandhi, 1958; Walz & Ritchie, 2000) and the satyagraha movement was a “movement intended to replace methods of violence, and a movement based entirely on truth” (Gandhi, 1951). Gandhi defined untruth as violence (Ritchie, 2001, p. 45). Since he believed that nonviolence involved a search for truth and that no individual had a monopoly on truth or complete understanding, he believed that his opponents needed to be treated with respect because they had the potential to contribute to a greater understanding of truth (Gandhi, 1958; McReynolds, 1998a).

While Gandhi’s commitment to truth was much stronger than that of more recent advocates of nonviolence, a commitment to truth and openness remains (Beck, 1991; Burrowes, 1994; Environment Centre of Western Australia, n.d.; McReynolds, 1999; Ochre & Burrowes, 1995; Starhawk, 1990; Walz & Ritchie, 2000; M. White, 1999e). Soulforce, for example, encourages its activists to take a vow of truth and to promise to “seek the truth, to live by the truth, and to confront untruth wherever I find it” (M. White, 1999e, para. 17). White (1999c) argues that the involuntary suffering faced by gays and lesbians is based on untruth and suggests that “those who believe (and even those who teach) the untruths about sexual orientation are victims too. To understand the cause of our suffering is to understand the untruths, half-truths, and misunderstandings that have victimised us all” (para. 3). In order to prevent further suffering, truth must replace untruth.

The commitment to truth also leads to a commitment to openness. In nonviolent campaigns, openness includes a willingness to be open with one’s opponents and to avoid secrecy in planning and organisation (King, 1958; Sharp, 1973d). Advantages of such an approach include:

  • Openness increases the possibility for dialogue with one’s opponents
  • Secrecy is based on fear and helps generate greater fear, and as fear frequently blocks action, secrecy can act as a barrier to mass action
  • Concerns about informers and spies are lessened because there are no decisions that have to be kept secret
  • Avoiding secrecy means that it is easier to involve more people in decision making which increases their commitment to action (Cumming, 1985; King, 1958; Sharp, 1973c; Walz & Ritchie, 2000).

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), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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