Where nonviolence derives its power

Ela Gandhi, Tom Eddington and Michael Nagler discuss key elements of nonviolence and dispel common misconceptions.

Subscribe to “Nonviolence Radio” on Apple Podcasts, Android, Spotify or via RSS.

This week on Nonviolence Radio, Ela Gandhi, Tom Eddington and Michael Nagler come together for a lively, insightful and uplifting discussion about various aspects of nonviolence, both in theory and in practice. These three experts in the field explore (among other topics) the relationship between morality and nonviolence, the core spiritual element of nonviolence, how a life dedicated to nonviolence is fertile ground for lasting personal happiness, and the crucial difference between strategic and principled nonviolence. The conversation is far reaching and welcoming, itself a kind of manifestation of another key element of nonviolence, an open and curious mindset. As Ela Gandhi notes:

We have to cultivate a nonjudgmental attitude in order to accept that there are many truths that, you know, listen to other people, not to come to the table with the idea that you have all the answers. But rather to come to the table to be able to listen, and with humility, with compassion, to understand and grow that understanding.

Special thanks to HumanityRising.org for hosting this talk.

Stephanie: This is Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California. The Metta Center, in collaboration with Humanity Rising hosted a 10-day nonviolence summit, spanning from late September into early October, the period around the International Day of Peace and the International Day of Nonviolence. And the summit had wonderful guests from around the nonviolence movement and also from around the world.

And we’ll be sharing several of the sessions on Nonviolence Radio over the coming months. And today, we’re going to share the first session. What is Nonviolence and Where does its Power Come From?

Guests are Nonviolence Radio’s very own Michael Nagler in conversation with Ela Gandhi out of Durban, South Africa. Jim Garrison of Humanity Rising gets us started and introduces Tom Eddington who will facilitate the conversation.

Jim: Hello, everyone, I’m Jim Garrison. In the spirit of the trees, in the spirit of living nature of which we’re a part, with deep gratitude to all of our ancestors that have brought us to the present moment. I want to welcome you to this session of Humanity Rising, as we begin a ten-day program on nonviolence.

You know, it’s a very deep issue, this question of how humans in society govern ourselves, how we interact with one another as simply as human beings and all part of the same species, Homo sapiens.

And if you’ve read the book, The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow, you’ll know that over the eons of time, humans have experimented in all kinds of ways of self-governance, all kinds of ways of interacting with one another, both in community and between communities. And there’s no set way that has been handed down by a divine being. It’s just an experimentation that we humans have made of ourselves.

And the irony which no one, as far as I know, has ever satisfactorily explained, is that somehow we’ve evolved probably the most coercive and dysfunctional ways of governance and interactivity. We commit all kinds of violence against each other, against the Earth. We maintain rigid hierarchical structures. We have a patriarchal model. We suppress women, we suppress animals, we suppress nature.

And this opportunity, this ideal of getting along with each other without doing harm, has always seemed to be prescient, but also elusive. As violence seems to be the default mechanism for personal and collective relationships over the thousands of years of history, intensified to the present day – until the violence that we are exercising between ourselves and on the Earth has gotten to such an egregious point that we’re about ready to self-destruct.

We want to look at how we can be more nonviolent with one another, how we can be more creative with one another, how we can do no harm. And in the spirit of affirming the mutuality of our lives, be much more innocent, I would say, with one another, more compassionate, more loving, more accepting of diversity. That is the great task of humankind.

And we’ve brought together an extraordinary array of people that have dedicated their lives to nonviolence. And we’re going to start today with just defining what it is.

So, it’s my great pleasure to introduce my good friend and colleague Tom Eddington, who’s the convener of this program. He has a passion for nonviolence. He has a passion for ecology. He’s the founder and CEO of Endangered Global. He’s convened several sessions over the last year on Humanity Rising on endangered species, which includes the human species and about a million other species.

He’s a very successful business executive that consults and coaches people around the world. He has Eddington Advisory Services.

But mostly he’s a scholar and a passionate citizen for preserving our endangered environment, and for how we as humans can interact more nonviolently and creatively and compassionately together at this critical time.

Tom: Thank you, Jim. Welcome, everyone. I’m delighted to be co-hosting with my dear friend and colleague Michael Nagler. Not only the writer and the producer of the ‘Third Harmony’ film, but more importantly, one of the leading thinkers and researchers and scholars in nonviolence, and most importantly to me, a very dear friend.

Michael is Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature Emeritus at the University of California, where he taught in the Peace and Conflict Studies program that he founded on that campus in the 1970s. In addition to teaching at Berkeley, Michael speaks very frequently in the media and the general public on issues of peace and nonviolence.

Michael’s written six books and contributes articles frequently to Tikkun and Yes! magazine, and other progressive journals. He’s consulted with the U.S. Institute of Peace and many organizations and projects dealing with nonviolence and world peace. Michael is the founder and president of the Metta Center and director of, as I mentioned, of the ‘Third Harmony’ film. So welcome, Michael.

Michael: Thank you so much, Tom. I guess I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to live up to that introduction.

Tom: Well, you won’t have any trouble with that at all. I suspect. And joining us today is Ela Gandhi. Ela is a socio-political activist. She qualified as a social worker and engaged in child and family welfare field. She now manages two family organizations. Her work is aimed at promoting a culture of nonviolence, generally, but specifically at the historic Gandhi ashram, known as the Phoenix Settlement, where she was born and lives and is joining us today from Durban. So welcome, Ela.

Ela: Thank you.

Tom: So we’ve got a wonderful topic today, Michael and Ela. We’re going to talk about nonviolence and sort of set the stage and help our audience really understand where nonviolence derives its power and hopefully dispel some of the misconceptions of nonviolence. And so, I’ll turn it over to you, Michael.

Michael: Thank you very much, Tom. I’m going to give the honor of starting us off today to my dear friend Ela Gandhi, who, in addition to everything that you mentioned, Tom, is the Mahatma’s granddaughter. And I have something in common with you, Ela. You may not have realized that we’ve both written children’s books about Gandhi. Yours is called, “The Essential Values of Mahatma Gandhi”, and ours is called Gandhi Searches for Truth. But enough about children’s books.

I think I’d like to hear your approach to this crucial topic that Tom has delineated for the morning. Where does nonviolence derive its power? What is it exactly?

Ela: Sure. I’m also learning, so I’m very happy to be part of this discussion. I’ve been fortunate, as a granddaughter of Gandhiji, to have lived in an ashram and brought up there by my parents who were scholars of Gandhian ideas. So the fortunate aspect is the fact that we lived that discipline from early childhood. And by doing so, it becomes a part of your nature. It becomes part of yourself. And so it really is a fortune and a privilege to have been able to live that kind of life.

So for me, nonviolence, from early childhood has been a way of life. It’s not just nonviolence that happens now and again, but it’s a way of life so that you begin to learn to respond to various situations in life with a nonviolent approach.

Now, as I said, that isn’t as simple as I’m saying it, because, you know, I have also experienced in my own lifetime that, whilst the discipline of this kind of life becomes part of one’s life, it’s not always easy to react in a nonviolent way to conflict. So we are constantly learning. Even my grandfather said so, that to his last day he was still learning.

And so all of us, we are learning all the time – how to react, how to control the base emotions that are within us. Once, you know, as we showed in this ‘Third Harmony’, we have the heart and the beautiful emotion of love and compassion and humanity and so on. But we also have that base emotion within us. And at times, you know, that emotion comes out.

So that whole question of Jekyll and Hyde personality, it is within all of us. And we have to learn to make the good part within us stronger. And that happens through discipline, through education, through learning, throughout life, because learning takes place at every experience in your life.

And so through those experiences, you learn to react in a particular way to particular situations. So, that is the power, I think, that one derives, that makes you nonviolent. And that power is something that you constantly develop within yourself. So it is an inner power. It’s within you. The spirit is within you. And through that, through the discipline that we learn, we begin to strengthen that spirit within us, and that helps us to react in a nonviolent way to situations. So, yeah, that’s the first thing that we have to learn.

Some people think, “Why do I have to learn nonviolence? Is it going to teach me something new?”

Experience has taught us all that learning is important. Learning even your spirituality, strengthening the spirituality within yourself, is important because that spirituality gets weak at times with situations. And how do you strengthen that?

So, it is about learning, about discussing, about learning from others, learning from experience, and so on. All the time we are growing, we are strengthening ourselves, and we are learning these aspects. So, that’s my first point – that it is important to learn, and it is important to have that discipline. And that that doesn’t take place in one day or a few days, but it is a lifelong learning process. So that’s the first point.

The second point, I think, is that in any conflict, like we were talking about war and so on, in that situation, if we want to intervene with nonviolence, with the nonviolent method, then there has to be a moral high ground. We have to ensure that what we are talking about comes within that purview of morality, of ethics. And therefore, we have to have that discipline within us as well.

And that discipline comes with humility, with a nonjudgmental attitude, with compassion and understanding, because there isn’t any one truth in the world. We are all looking for the truth, but there isn’t one truth, the only truth. And people see them from their own perspectives, and those perspectives are many.

We have to cultivate a nonjudgmental attitude in order to accept that there are many truths that, you know, listen to other people, not to come to the table with the idea that you have all the answers. But rather to come to the table to be able to listen, and with humility, with compassion, to understand and grow that understanding. And come with the actual principles that we learned through this learning of nonviolence, because they are some basic principles.

And Martin Luther King has pointed them out, Gandhiji has pointed them out. And therefore, those basic principles have to be adhered to. Those are the parameters that we created. Those are the parameters that give us that moral high ground. Because if we don’t have the moral high ground on our side, what is the power that we come with?

Power lies in many different things. Power lies in being strong. Power lies in having lots of weapons. Power lies in having money, having a lot of people following us. Power lies in the strength of having all of these people who would accept what you are saying, or accept the truth that, you know, that has been worked out. So there is that power in having people behind you.

And to develop that power, that ethical morality, gives you the power, and it gives you the following. It gives you that strength. Whether it is the media, whether it is people, all that grows through this ethics and morality that we put forward. If we don’t have that, if we don’t have those two things to put on the table, then we lose the backing of people. We lose the backing of publicity. We lose the backing of having any power. We actually weaken ourselves if we don’t come with those moral principles and ethics.

So I think that I’m going to leave it at that. There are lots of things that are mentioned by Gandhiji, by Martin Luther King, and other people, which are important aspects of learning how to lead a nonviolent life. I’m just today mentioning these two things, the moral and ethical principle that’s important. And the fact that you are learning all the time. Learning how to live a more nonviolent way of life. So these affect those two aspects.

Tom: Thank you for sharing the two principles. I’m curious where, you know, each of us as human beings have needs and oftentimes those needs will help shape our truth and our understanding of the world. And so, I’d be curious to hear you respond to where our individual needs fit into the moral high ground and the realization that nonviolence is a lifelong practice.

Ela: So I think for me, that aspect of needs has been shown by Gandhiji when he decided to leave his home in an urban area in the city and establish the Phoenix Ashram, which is the first ashram that he established. And it was the first time that he thought that, ‘I have to change my lifestyle. So how do I change my lifestyle?’

And in that change and in what he did at the Phoenix Ashram are the basics of the needs that people have. The common human needs that people have. And the fact that it is, each one of ours responsibility to ensure that those common human needs are met. That is our responsibility, and we need to take on that responsibility.

So when Pope Francis talks about the economy of solidarity, to me that is what I understand to be the economy of solidarity. That when you see a person in need, there are different needs that people have – a need to have a house and shelter, a need to have education, need to have health care, a need to have work and dignity, all those kinds of things.

And it’s us as human beings that can come to the table and ensure that everybody’s needs, those common human needs, are met. And once those common human needs are met, fundamental needs, then there will be less conflict in the world than we see at present. There will be, in my opinion, less environmental degradation. Because once you begin to look at these common human needs, and you begin to look at it from the point-of-view that we have to come together, that we are actually each other’s keepers. The Bible says so. All our Scriptures say that we are responsible for the world, for others in the world. And if we take on that responsibility seriously, then the world will be a different place.

So, I think that, you know, that’s a fundamental thing. And it has been depicted in Gandhiji’s life, when he changed his life from living in the city to living in a rural area, living in a communal settlement, looking after each other, everyone respecting each other. You have shared spirituality where you respect each other’s beliefs, and you have no problem in sharing each other’s beliefs.

So they used to sing the hymns together, no matter which religious sector you belong to. But everybody sang the hymns together. Everybody prayed together and lived together – men, women, children, different race groups, different religious groups. So, all that diversity, that those diversities are human-made diversities.

And if you break down those diversities and learn to live together, it is completely changing – changing your mindset, changing your lifestyle and so on.

Tom: One of the questions in the chat – or it’s a comment – refers to what you shared about standing on the moral high ground. The observation that’s shared is, “It implies one can look down on others and that judgment is not helpful.” And so I’m wondering if you can make the distinction between standing on the moral high ground without judgment.

Ela: So, we don’t judge other people. But when we talk about moral high ground, morality and ethics, we look at not what is good for me, but what is good for all. Gandhi talked about sarvodaya, the good of all people. And when you are looking at the good of all, then there’s immediately a change in perspective. And the way people look at you is a change because you are not going there because you are going to benefit from any changes or whatever negotiations that are taking place. It’s not your personal change, but it is a change for the good of all people.

And you don’t have to have the answer to create the good of all the people. You go with humility, ‘let’s work out how we can look at a way to resolve the conflict situation so that we can meet the needs of all the people. So that we can look at the good of all.’ That immediately changes that arrogance of, you know, ‘Okay, I have the truth. I have the moral high ground.’

The moral high ground of people and their needs, that is the moral high ground. And that mustn’t be compromised in any way because it immediately gets compromised when we say that, ‘Okay, this is good for me. I’m, you know, I’m going to benefit from this deal.’ Whatever the deal is. The minute it takes that turn, that I’m going to benefit from it, then there’s no moral high ground anymore. It goes down. So that’s what I’m talking about here.

Tom: Thank you for clarifying. Michael, do you want to weigh in?

Michael: Well, yes, I can weigh in, Tom. I really, really liked your remarks, Ela, as I always do. And I wanted to comment on one thing you said and make a slight change, which I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with. You said that, ‘Eventually nonviolence becomes part of our nature.’ But in reality, nonviolence is our nature. It’s been there all along. So, I knew you would agree.

So what we can say, and I think this is a way of putting what you said so nicely, is that it becomes part of our second nature. In other words, we respond spontaneously with nonviolence to any situation, to any kind of challenge.

So, what we’re doing at that point is overcoming our conditioning and reaching down into our deepest nature. And that’s where the tremendous happiness and fulfillment comes from.

You know, this is an unpleasant statistic, but I feel like I should mention it at this point, the amount of suicides that are going on among former servicemen and women in the United States is absolutely appalling.

And it at least shows us something if we would only learn it, and it shows us that that violence, as the word implies, violence violates our inner nature. It violates who we are. We cannot shed that moral awareness. It’s ingrained in us. And so, people are going to respond that way.

In the field of nonviolence, as far as I know, nobody has committed suicide. Except self-immolation might occasionally happen, but not that kind of despair that we see when people go into violence. So that’s very eloquent. Kind of heavy to think about.


Ela: I agree with you entirely, Michael, that violence is certainly not our nature. And in fact, every time we commit violence, we are dehumanizing ourselves. We ourselves find that we can’t live with a violent act. But when we have done something nonviolently, we feel proud of ourselves. We feel the elation within ourselves. And you feel good about yourself.

And I mean, without being arrogant, one feels that you are able to achieve much more through nonviolent ways, both for the community, but also for yourself.

Michael: Absolutely.

Ela: Because you feel good about yourself. The minute you commit violence, you don’t feel good about yourself. And that is the situation. And I think people need to know that what society is doing, however, is that we are projecting that mature image in society. And I mean, that is one of the reasons why we have gender based violence, growing incidents of gender based violence, of violent attacks on people as well, and so on.

And that is because we create the atmosphere or a society where people feel that the stronger you are, physically strong, and you can beat somebody up, that you’ve done something good. People tell you you’ve done something good. But I know this for a fact – because as a social worker, I’ve spoken to people. The person who commits that act doesn’t feel that good. People tell them, “You know, you’ve won. You are a strong person. You know, you’ve got big muscles,” and all the rest of it. But at the end of the day, once you’ve committed an act, you don’t feel good about it.

So we should, you know, look at societal conditioning that people have gone through. And I think that that’s very important from early childhood, that we don’t create that kind of perception.

Tom: Michael, picking up on on a comment you made about people in the military, one of the guests on Humanity Rising – earlier this year, we did a program on the global epidemic of adolescent anxiety, depression, and suicide. She’s Dr. Lisa Miller from Columbia University, doing research and work with the U.S. Army, where bringing spiritual practices to the Army personnel have reduced suicide rates by 28%.

Michael: Wonderful. Yeah.

Tom:And so picking up on that, I’m wondering about your comment and I would ask you both to respond: is having a spiritual practice, is that helping us see that our nonviolent nature is our core nature?

Michael: That is precisely what spiritual practice is about. It is to enable us to, you know, breast stroke through all the debris of accumulated conditioning, and especially nowadays, the conditioning of the mass media. And get back to our fundamental nature. That’s a very satisfactory thing to do.

Now, of course, in the United States, there hasn’t been the continuous tradition of spirituality that you see developed, for example, in India. In fact, India is kind of outstanding without any example in that way. So, when this terrific need for spirituality became acute in the 1960s, you saw people going all over the map without any guidance.

And I mention this because I don’t want people to think that because someone says, “I meditate, or I’m spiritual,” that they’re necessarily doing it correctly. Just as what Ela said about nonviolence, you can’t just pick up a placard and walk out on the street and say, “I am nonviolent.” It requires knowledge, training, practice. So it is with spiritual practice as well.

I used to say to my students when I was teaching at Berkeley that there will be no peace without nonviolence. And they would say, “And you also believe that there will be no nonviolence without meditation.” I still stand on that platform, I guess.

Tom: And Ela, how about from your perspective, the spirituality piece?

Ela: I think spirituality is very important because it helps people to look within themselves. I think of spirituality – you know, with spirituality comes some understanding as well. And there are different types of understanding. You see, for instance, what has happened in our country, in our neighboring countries, and so on.

When they go to war or when they commit violence, for instance, the terrible torture that we are subjected to sometimes. During the apartheid regime, a lot of us were subjected to torture. Now, that torture, the person who has subjected the people to torture had a mental conditioning that these are subhumans, that these are people – you know, just as you would kill a snake. You kill a human being because that human being is a snake, is a cockroach. It’s been told that in Rwanda, that’s what they said, that these people are cockroaches, and they have to be killed.

So when you begin to, you know, satisfy yourself that you haven’t done something wrong, then that spirituality is not really helping to bring about a morally sound person. So we’ve got to point out that your understanding was wrong, that this person is a human being like any one of us, and that you shouldn’t have actually done what you did.

But we all make mistakes. And I mean, that is also within our faith. Our faith does talk about forgiveness, about accepting. Accepting that you have done something wrong and changing. The most important thing is the change. You have done something wrong, don’t do it again. Accept that. And if we can do that, then yes. And prevent people from committing suicide, then it’s good.

But if we say that, “Look what you’ve done. You did it for your country, and it’s okay and carry on,” then you’re not doing something that’s just and moral.

Tom: Thank you. One of the comments posed in the chat is – it’s addressed in part, Michael, in the film ‘The Third Harmony’ that we need harmony with ourselves, with each other, and with nature. But there’s a question around selfishness, and where does that fit in the context of nonviolence? I’ll ask a follow-up question. But I’d like to have the two of you speak to that first.

Michael: I regard selfishness as an illusion, which is a perfectly understandable one. The concern for and desire for one’s own well-being seems to not work. When we turn ourselves inside out – and this is a strange thing, but it’s true, and we can all experience it. When we turn ourselves inside out and dedicate ourselves to the well-being of others, it’s not a zero-sum game. They improve to some extent. We improve to some extent.

This is the paradox, and all the spiritual traditions have known this. That the less we seek our own well-being as a separate individual, the more we thrive and the more we actually guarantee our well-being. So, I hope by making this clear. It’s by forgetting about ourselves that we flourish. Let me just leave it that way.

Tom: And how about for you, Ela?

Ela:I think, again, it’s natural for all of us to want certain things for ourselves. That we want to improve our life. You want to be happy. Happiness comes from, again, many things. You know, how do you measure happiness? Is it because you have many possessions? Or does happiness come from loving people, helping people? Where does your happiness come from?

So, this is again something that one needs to condition oneself to, in order to see that happiness is not only having hundreds of pairs of shoes or, you know, designer clothes or things like that. There are other things that are more important in life, which make you happy. So that’s the one thing, that those illusions that are created in our minds.

So, that selfishness of wanting to do something to make yourself happy is within all of us, whatever way we want to make ourselves happy. But that is within us. It’s a normal thing for all human beings. So, how you practice that is the important thing. How do you control it? How do you use it? You don’t have to make yourself miserable. Gandhiji said you don’t have to go into the mountains to find God. You can find God within people.

In this process of satisfying yourself, you need to be circumspect. That you don’t find satisfaction by dispossessing other people. “There is a sufficiency in the world,”Gandhiji said, “to meet the needs of everyone, but not the greed of anyone.” So the minute that selfishness becomes greed, then it’s not good selfishness.

But so I believe that there is good selfishness and bad selfishness. I’m not sure if the terminology is correct, but I think that we do need to make ourselves happy in order to live. And to make yourself happy, you can go for a walk, you can meditate. You can do a lot of things. You don’t have to take away some possession that belongs to the people to make yourself happy.

Tom: Thank you both. I’m wondering if the two of you could speak to the two hands of nonviolence, and where does nonviolence derive power? Because that perception, that there’s no power in nonviolence, is not accurate.

Michael: Hardly. Now, it’s interesting that that quote about the two hands of nonviolence comes from Barbara Deming. And she was the first person that I was going to quote from in my presentation this morning. But the model is very simple and very useful that we should always approach a disagreement, or something that’s escalated to something worse than a disagreement, a conflict where one party wants the unhappiness of another, with what Barbara Deming calls the two hands of nonviolence.

With one hand, we’re saying,     ‘I will not put up with your injustice.’ But the critical thing is that the other hand is saying, ‘But I am open to you as a human being.’ Ela, you were talking about this also that the critical thing in nonviolence is the ability to separate the person from the deed. In cases where you have to defy the deed, but you are never against the true well-being of the person. That’s where nonviolence really gets its power.

Ela: Yeah, I agree with what Michael said. And I think that, you know, nonviolence, if we were to look at it, you know, requires far more courage than violence does. Because whatever we do, we do it with, you know, a lot of courage and resilience. So that’s the one thing about nonviolence.

But the other thing is that in using nonviolent methodology, you are saying that you are not going to cooperate with injustice, with evil. You’re not going to cooperate. And that non-cooperation with evil is what Gandhiji practiced, what nonviolence practitioners do. So, it is a direct action. It’s not inaction.

That is why Gandhiji felt that, you know, it’s not passive. It’s not a passive resistance. It’s an active resistance to violence. So, nonviolence, although it is ‘non’ – and you know both I think Martin Luther King and Gandhiji, removed the hyphen that separates the ‘non’ from violence. They made it into one word, ‘nonviolence.’ Because it’s not ‘non’ something, it is a positive thing. And that positive thing is love. And that’s why you love the person. But you hate the deed. You love the person. But that deed is wrong. And you try to show the person, change the person through love. You try to bring about a change in that person to see that what he or she is doing is wrong and needs to change.

Tom: Thank you, Michael. You want to pick up on that comment and share some of the information that you prepared for today.

Michael: Thank you, Tom. Yes, I would love to do that. I mentioned that. I’m going to start with a quote from Barbara Deming, the one who gave us that model of the two hands of nonviolence. She was one of the really early explorers of nonviolence in this country, in America. And she said, “Nonviolence is an experiment. One that has just begun.”

And, of course, this is reminiscent of what Gandhi called his Experiments with Truth. Which was his way of characterizing his whole life. That’s what the title of his autobiography was, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.”

So our topic is going to be nothing less than what Gandhi called the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. Now, of course, when he said that, it was understood that it was a benevolent force. Because from his background, the good is real, and evil is only appearance. That’s a critical element in his approach to life. That the term ‘sat’ in Sanskrit which means ‘being’ which means ‘truth’ also means that which is good.

He said that, ‘Nonviolence is greater than the atomic bomb because it is a power that operates on a different level.’ And it was kind of a pun in Sanskrit, we could say, ‘The power of the Atman is greater than the power of the atom.’ The Atman being the core self of the human being, which critically is the same as the self in every other living thing, every sentient being.

So my description of this opening session, I said what we’re going to be trying to do is to engage the positive energies latent within every one of us as human beings. We want to think about the implications of this. That we have positive energy in us by virtue of being human. And I would go further, as Gandhiji did, and say that these are the fundamental energies.

Now, this involves various ways of looking at a person that may not be familiar to us. So, I think that it involves a different and better image of who we are. And that we really need to be grounded in a different, more accurate image of what is a human being in order to practice nonviolence correctly.

So to pick up on Gandhiji’s comment, that it’s the greatest force that we’ve been endowed with, I would say that, alas, it’s also the most neglected at the moment. And that is the real predicament of our time that Jim referred to in his opening remarks. Because it’s least known, it is also the least used. And the goal of this conference is to try to correct that.

Now happily, if you look back over the last 20 years – and Erica Chenoweth does this very well in the film – you see that nonviolence really has expanded since Gandhiji’s time. He said, “Nonviolence has come among human beings. It will live,” and that is now happening in a very dramatic way.

In the film, Erica says, “We see more episodes of nonviolent action in the last decade than throughout the 1990s.” And there are various aspects of this expansion, this growth, both theoretical and practical. For example, as Tom referenced, the fact that I founded the Peace and Conflict Studies program when I was teaching at Berkeley. Back then, we were almost the only such program in the country, and there’s now 190 of them, and counting – at my last count.

And so a whole new field has come into existence of nonviolence research, which Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan and many others – Stellan Vingthagen at Amherst, are very, very good exemplars of. And our understanding of nonviolence – this is quite important, our understanding of what it really is, is also growing.

When this project of education or exploration research started, it was started by Gene Sharp at Harvard, but he operated with only one set of examples of nonviolence; namely, an insurrectionary movement against an unacceptable regime. God knows there’s room for that. We’re seeing that in Iran and in many places today. But it’s quite important for us to realize that this is only one little scintilla, one little spark, of what nonviolence can do for us.

So, Gene Sharp left open a question that has become of primary importance to us, and that is when you do something nonviolent, was it a strategic choice, or was it a matter of principle?

So, since then, we speak about these two things as strategic nonviolence or principled nonviolence, and it’s critical to realize that they are very different phenomena. Strategic non-violence is the hyphenated kind, Tom, that you referred to. And principled nonviolence is the un-hyphenated kind.

And we also talk a lot nowadays about the “new story.” The new story of human nature, that we are not, you know, Darwinian fragments competing against one another, but spiritual beings striving to complete one another. And so, therefore, principled nonviolence becomes critically important because it is the only kind that really does that.

You can do strategic non-violence, and it can often succeed in the old model of you against me, of life being a zero-sum game and a struggle. You can do that. And any day it’s better than doing violence. But I’m going to say you’re only just beginning to touch the hem of the garment of what nonviolence can truly be.

In other words, principled nonviolence changes the entire social field whereas strategic non-violence operates within the existing field. So this is an important distinction that I have come to adopt and want to leave you with.

So, I want to give you a couple of examples. One of the greatest practitioners of nonviolence in our age, it was Danilo Dolci, who was called the Sicilian Gandhi. Il Gandhi Siciliano. And he passed on in 1997. He was originally an architect in Milan, doing very, very well. Went down to Sicily, to Palermo for a vacation, saw the poverty and said, “I’m going to stay here and take care of this.”

So, he spent the rest of his life fighting two things, the poverty of the Sicilian peasants and the Mafia. To take on the Mafia requires a certain amount of courage, I would say, speaking as a New Yorker.

So, brilliantly enough, Danilo actually won. His first struggle was to create a dam called the Jato Dam, which would provide water for irrigation for these farmers and vastly improve their lot. But the mafia was against that because they wanted people to be in poverty so they could control them. But they probably didn’t go around saying that.

So, when Danilo got this dam – now at the same time, he was also a schoolteacher. And he was teaching the children of the mafiosi, so he had some credibility with them. See, that’s the other hand, ‘I’m not rejecting your whole gene pool because your father is in the mafia.’ So he was on speaking terms with them. And when he created this dam, much to their dismay, they came to him, and they said, “Okay, Danilo, now you’ve won. Now you have all the water.” Very strategic non-violence, old story, kind of viewpoint.

What Danilo immediately and spontaneously said is, “No. Now we have all the water.” That the water is for everyone. It’s for the uplift of the entire community. So, this is what I’m calling a principled nonviolence approach. Which is another way, really, of looking at those two hands of nonviolence. Because in principle nonviolence, you’re acting in such a way that humanity actually grows, actually rises, if I may say so, and actually approaches its own destiny. So, that’s an example of principled nonviolence.

Just to throw that into relief, I’ll give you an example of strategic non-violence, not that I’m advocating it, but I will say, you know, it’s better than violence. And in the early years of the recent Intifada in Palestine, in the 1990s, one of the Palestinians who wanted to advocate that the Palestinians adopt nonviolence, which they did. Mostly strategic non-violence, because I should say that what Danilo Dolci did, and principled nonviolence, is still very rare in our world. That’s the paradox. It’s our inner nature, but it has yet to really manifest itself.

And so, one of the Palestinians talking to his colleagues, fellow countrymen, said, “Well, let’s try non-violence. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll go pick up arms and go back to violence.” So, that’s strategic non-violence for you. And you can see why I’m okay with it, but not enthusiastic about it.

And it does bring up another critical topic that I address in my book, The Third Harmony. And that is, what do we actually mean by work? Do we mean I got what I wanted in that situation and devil take the hindmost? Or do I mean that I was able to elevate the situation to some degree?

And we can state as a principle that violence sometimes works. There’s no question about that. Even the most hideous violence that Russia is exerting right now, for example, against Ukraine, it’s gained them some territory. So it does “work” in that respect.

But at the same time, the suicide rates are rising in Russia. Thirteen hundred people have been arrested recently for protesting. So we can say that violence sometimes “works”, i.e., gets you what you want, but it never does good work.

Whereas principled nonviolence sometimes “works”. I mean, sometimes it doesn’t seem to work. I’m thinking of the case of an American volunteer in Palestine who – there was an Israeli settler who was very, very angry. The American fellow reached out his hand. He says, “Hi, my name is so-and-so.” And the settler, who is in a really bad state, kicked him into the gutter and said, “My name is Hate.” So, that’s an example of principled nonviolence that didn’t “work,” but it did good work. It affected that person, even though it didn’t necessarily show in the immediate term.

So, the great thing about getting to this vision of principled nonviolence, non-hyphenated, if you will, is that we can easily see that nonviolence can be applied across the board.

Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook. I want to thank our mother station, KWMR, that makes this show possible. We also want to thank Humanity Rising for the Summit. To Matt Watrous and the Nonviolence Radio team for putting the show together, special thanks especially to Bryan Farrell at Waging Nonviolence for archiving the show’s transcript at WagingNonviolence.org/metta, where you can find more episodes Nonviolence Radio at our website, NonviolenceRadio.org. And you can also find it at the Metta Center’s website, MettaCenter.org.

And to you all of our listeners, please stay in touch and please take care of one another. Until the next time.