Nonviolence? What do you mean?

From the last seminar from which I still want to write a report for you at one point, here some thoughts I had around different concepts and words surrounding non-violence. They will hopefully provide some food for thought, ideas or inspiration or you can use them as a starting point to draft your own definition against ;)

These are working definitions I use in seminars and for myself to gain deeper understandings – these all are work in progress and worthy of discussion, not fix and may not even represent my current opinion on them :)

NMW Street action in Germany from last seminar

What is nonviolence?

Any interaction which does not limit the possibilities of other beings without their free-willed consent.

Mohandas K. Ghandi developed a more elaborate concept of nonviolence based on three attitudes:


The dedication to not injuring any being.


The search and proclamation of truth and only truth while keeping in mind that one’s own truths may very well not be the truths of others or even be grounded in some form of objective truth.


Taking suffering onto one self instead of causing it to others. To Ghandi this was very important when trying to make others understand truths, as together with not wanting to hurt anyone, suffering can only be exerted onto yourself. Never upon others.

What is aggression?

Aggression is an intermediate drive for action resulting from feelings such as anger or frustration. Depending on cultural acceptance and context it can be acted upon by direct or indirect violence (verbal / physical) or by different tools of non-violent conflict transformation.

What is violence?

“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or happening, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation” (Krug et al 2002, p. 5 after Mayton III, Nonviolence and Peace Psychology, p. 3)

The intentional character embodied in most violence-definitions highlights the understanding of violence as a tool for dealing with underlying emotions like aggression and their causes (which could in terms of nonviolent communication be unsatisfied needs).

What is pacifism?

Last NMW training

Pacifism provides the moral grounds and reasoning for being nonviolent.

There are three basic forms of pacifism(Mayton III, Nonviolence and Peace Psychology, p. 5):

1. Just pacifism – just war

Only when fighting for just causes – freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. is war and the use of violence permisible.

2. Pacifism with self-defense exception

Waging war and employing violence is only allowed, when attacked first.

3. Principled Pacifism

Under no circumstance is participating with violent means in war and any other use of violence permissible or ethically acceptable.

What is force?

Physical or psychological pressure exerted onto individuals or groups, either directly or indirectly.

Why nonviolence?

As human individuals, we are biologically predisposed to create and be nurtured in positive, non-violent environments. This is because the brain reacts to pain of others, as if it were our own (slightly less but still) – it imitates it and that way we feel it, too. It does the same with positive feelings. This is the normal state, we are born with as has been known for decades in science (e.g. Meltzoff 1977). Any other reaction, like feeling pain when seeing something happy is a learned reaction which could for example be rooted in us being reminded of a feeling we are missing in our life and therefore feel the pain of sudden sadness.

Therefore hurting someone else will hurt us as well.

Economically, war is very profitable for weapon producers and arm traders. However, the cost for society are much higher. So many pay for the suffering of many but only few will gain from it. This is why the former US president Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex gaining influence on policy and war decisions as they would further violent conflict resolution to earn money.

Hills surounding the seminar place

Socially, violent conflict resolution harms in several ways. Reintegration of ex-combatants is very difficult and requires a large amount of resources to deal with physical injuries and psychological traumata. Societies promoting war are also prone to have problems with violence in their own countries as it becomes part of the culture and raises the probability of violent behaviour in the population (e.g. Grossman 1995).

Non-violence creates much more than the absence of the negative violence-related issues. It creates a positive bond of trust between people and by that enhances participation of all to the best of their abilities. It furthers mutually shared understanding (e.g. Nonviolent Communication), lowers risk for mobbing in schools (e.g. through the No-blame approach) and not having an army but instead putting the money into education can prove to be a safeguard against economic crisis and further political stability (see Costa Rica, without an army since 1949).

Sustainable nonviolence

For nonviolence to work, it needs much more than abstaining from violence. Structures, big and small need to become prepared for using non-violent techniques. This is mainly an educational problem, since on societal level, a lot of research has been done by non-governmental peace organisations and universities. From personal conflicts to group-conflicts, in private life as well as in corporate contexts as also between countries, non-violent techniques have been succesfully applied and are a tried and working possibility for solving the conflicts we have today.

From slow trust building between people and groups to non-violent political participation, the range of experiences and stories to tell is a wonderful journey.

What helps me personally to be non-violent?

Whenever I am connected to my own feelings, it is much easier to notice when I am irritated (the first and usually easiest to diffuse stage of conflict) or someone else is.

For this, honesty towards one self is essential and what I would call ‘good friends’ can help a lot. By that I mean people, I can trust with sharing my insecurities and questions life raises and then getting a good mixture of positive, heart-warming support as well as questions aiming at helping me see different perspectives on situations and critique where they think it is really necessary (happens as well sometimes :) ).

For me, this openness helped a lot together with doing exercises and using non-violent communication in daily life and by that connecting deeper to my own feelings and those of others bit by bit.

Often something as simple as listening to music and giving myself time to think helps a lot as well.

Would be interested in have you share, what you experienced in helping you on your path to non-violence if that is a path you are trying to walk on!

Looking at examples of non-violent methods in every day life is always helpful to me. My favourites are the Nonviolent Peaceforce for violent conflicts between groups (e.g. the conflict in Sri Lanka or the Philippines), the No-blame approach against bullying in schools or Nonviolent Communication as a way to deal with other human beings in a respectful, mindful and non-violent ways.

This post represents the personal opinion of Georg at the time of writing!

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