Mainstreaming nonviolence — a conversation with Michael Nagler

Metta Center for Nonviolence Founder Michael Nagler's new book and project aim to do nothing less than bring nonviolence into the public consciousness.

Michael Nagler, founder and president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, has a new book on the way. Set for release on March 31, it’s called “The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature.”

The book is part of a larger project to bring nonviolence into the mainstream of public consciousness — and will be accompanied by a documentary film, a board game and a multi-year media campaign.

Needless to say, Michael has his hands full, but here he takes time to answer a few questions about the book and the project.

What was the inspiration behind the “The Third Harmony?”

It’s something that’s been slowly dawning on me, over the years. I feel it’s the logical extension — the culmination, if you will — of the natural trajectory for anyone thinking of  nonviolence the way we do, i.e. “principled,” or as I like to say, “not just a way of life but a state of mind — and doing so today.”  To clarify the last part, I’ve been frustrated for quite some time with the absence of nonviolence awareness (and sometimes even of interest) among environmental activists, including the subset of those who work on the new story.  I feel strongly that that silo has to be breached.

Tell us a little bit about the book and specifically what you mean by the term “new story?” 

The “new story” is the most common term today for what used to be called the “emerging paradigm,” among other things. A “story” in this sense is a way of understanding the universe and one’s place in it. The search for a new paradigm, or story goes back to Thomas Kuhn, whose 1962 book “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” showed that scientific worldwide culture has shifted several times in the history of science. It was quickly taken up by people like myself who were profoundly dissatisfied with the materialistic, separate, effectively helpless version of a human being in popular Western culture — and not just pop culture, but scientific and intellectual. And now we’re more than dissatisfied; we feel that the old story’s killing us. So in the course of writing this book I came to the realization that not only does nonviolence of our type need a new story to be comprehensible, the new story needs nonviolence to be complete — and (my final breakthrough) the practice of  nonviolence is the only way to change the story safely and surely.

Who do you hope to reach with “The Third Harmony?” Who will benefit most from reading it? 

Well, I like to say “anyone and everyone,” but I’ve learned from the publicity types at [publisher] Berrett Koehler that this won’t do. So while, yes, “early adopters” could come from any demographic, I’m now thinking that the very large number of people in spiritual groups today (mindfulness practitioners, etc.) and the smaller number of  nonviolence activists and advocates (like myself) will be the first audience. And that’s by no means confined to this country.  I’d love to see it in schools and colleges, too.

Tell us more about the Third Harmony Project that this book is a part of.

I thought you’d never ask! Yes, this wasn’t exactly planned, but by good fortune or whatever runs the universe there are four major projects coming to fruition around this crucial topic: a documentary film of the same title, a board game called “Cosmic Peaceforce: Mission Harmony Three” and, finally — when all these deliverables are ready — a multi-year cross-media campaign. What is the final impact we’re hoping for? Nothing less than “mainstreaming  nonviolence,” the holy grail of peace activists.

What are three specific actions you suggest that people take to forward nonviolence, and the new story in their lives?

This of course is the key question. We have slightly modified a set of five recommendations we’ve been making to individuals for decades now and which make up the inner circle of our roadmap to an unstoppable movement, the circle called “personal empowerment.”  They are 1. shun violent media; 2. learn everything you can about nonviolence; 3. consider taking up a spiritual practice (if you haven’t already); 4. interact personally wherever possible; and 5. pick your issue and get to work. The modification is that five now includes explaining what the new story is to whomever will listen. That, I argue in the book, is how paradigms change. 

For more information about “The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature,” visit Michael’s website, where you can download the first chapter for free. You can also learn more about pre-ordering the book and the Third Harmony Project at The Metta Center for Nonviolence.

This story was produced by Metta Center for Nonviolence


We provide educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, with the recognition that it’s not about putting the right person in power but awakening the right kind of power in people. We advance a higher image of humankind while empowering people to explore the question: How does nonviolence work, and how can I actively contribute to a happier, more peaceful society?

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