Information and inspiration on everyday nonviolence
LivingNonviolence works to inform and inspire a life of nonviolence. Gandhi claimed that nonviolence is "the law of our being"; that nonviolence manifests in human life in infinite ways; that violence is an aberration from being human. We agree! We write to support and encourage this point of view.
We are writers from many locations and walks of life, most associated with an international non-profit called Nonviolent Alternatives.
The “evil” part is understandable. We heavily invest our financial, natural, and intellectual resources in this system, yet our return on investment is dismal. For all the promises of security and peace, we have enjoyed little of either. Moreover, militarism leaves its well-known wake of physical and emotional suffering, environmental destruction, social stresses, and spiritual disintegration. Militarism is regarded as an evil because it is ruining us on many fronts.
The “necessary” part is, in a way, also understandable. What are we to do in the face of brute behavior around the globe? Civilians are beheaded, innocents are held hostage, villages are massacred, communities are terrorized, and so on. In response, we wield our tools of coercion and harm, with the hope that military force will defeat those who use violence to achieve their goals.
Of course, those who suffer the consequences of military force return, sooner or later, with new attacks, new hostages, and new terror. And we respond, again, with our arsenal of coercion and harm. Despite the futile cycle, we believe that military force is necessary because we see no better option.
Necessary evils make us uneasy. One would think that it is the evilness in the equation that causes distress, but perhaps it is the certainty of necessity. When we encounter a necessary evil, maybe our first question should be: Necessary for what purpose?
In regard to militarism, if we are to be frank, the popular view comes down to this: Militarism is necessary in order to protect ourselves and others from suffering, and, if it fails on that count, then militarism at least enables us to take revenge on those who we believe cause the suffering.
For many people, this is where the investigation of necessity ends. However, if we are going to keep pumping resources into militarism, it is in our interest to look deeper. Why do we want to invest so heavily in protection and revenge? This question might feel ridiculous, but our answer has great bearing on many lives and communities, including our own.
Most of us hope to live a life of happiness and ease, with all that we need, in a sustainable environment. Unfortunately, our interests in protection and revenge do not serve this vision well. If we live life in a defensive stance, we are unable to enjoy ease. If we are more concerned with security than openness, we lose the ability to engage easily with the life’s flow of changing circumstances. If we want to exact revenge whenever we are hurt, we sabotage the possibility of a sustainable peace. In other words, the core drivers of militarism work against the life we envision.
When threats and crises present themselves, we have more tools at our disposal than just protection and revenge. Mohandas Gandhi, who famously experimented with the possibilities of nonviolent social change, coined the Sanskrit term satyagraha to identify a method for transforming troublesome situations. Gandhi proposed that satya (truth) combined with agraha (firmness) creates a useful social power that does not rely on harming others. Gandhi often referred to this power as “truth-force.”
Satyagraha is an adherence to truth as it unfolds. Since many perspectives are necessary in order to see what is true, satyagraha offers a way to create change that recognizes both our incomplete understanding of any given situation and the wisdom that others have to share. It is a way of directly engaging with others to work out the difficult aspects of life without resorting to coercion, harm, or ill intention. Satyagraha is the social power which arises when we act with kindness, respect, patience, generosity, and service.
Key components of satyagraha include: changing ourselves as a means of changing the world; touching our adversary’s heart as a means of changing the world; maintaining kind intentions without exception; attempting to refrain from harming others; offering selfless service; and employing means consistent with the ends we desire.
If satyagraha is not a familiar concept, and if the history of its application to threats and crises was not included in our education, then we have a whole new world to explore. There are many traditions of nonviolent social change, all offering alternatives to our tools of protection and revenge.
As we educate ourselves about the techniques and successes of satyagraha, we may find that militarism is, ultimately, an unnecessary evil.