“Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will, its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” —Mahatma Gandhi 1
The principles of nonviolence that Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. practiced, modeled, and lived out have impacted billions of people and led to many social change movements marked in history.
Nonviolence is rooted in the principle of ahimsa, which literally means to be without harm to oneself, others, and all living things. It is the place where compassion can flow in each of us and where there is no room in the heart for violence. “With truth combined with ahimsa,” Gandhi writes, “You can bring the world to your feet.” 2
Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others have seen the power of ahimsa and nonviolence firsthand and have in many ways brought nations to their feet. Walter Wink cites in his book The Powers that Be, “In 1989 alone, thirteen nations comprising 1.7 billion people—over thirty-two percent of humanity—experienced nonviolent revolutions. They succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations in every case but China. And they were completely peaceful (on the part of the protesters) in every case but Romania and parts of the southern U.S.S.R. If we add all the countries touched by major nonviolent actions in this century, the figure reaches almost 3 billion—a staggering sixty four percent of humanity!” 3
Nonviolence has been around for a long time and it has been used effectively for centuries. Yet, it was not “developed into a movement complete with strategies and tactics until Gandhi and King.” 4
Wink adds, “No one with any knowledge of history can ever again say that nonviolence “doesn’t work.” 5
A Way of Life
For Gandhi and King, nonviolence was not just a strategy and/or tactic for a peaceful protest or movement—it was a way of life. Nonviolence was meant to be lived out daily.
To Gandhi, ahimsa or nonviolence was the duty of all, not just a select few. It encompassed being kind to all and not producing harm in any way to another. “In addition, he made it a positive and dynamic method of political action to challenge evils that had been allowed to fester—from the domination by the British to the acceptance within Hinduism of untouchability,” writes Terrence J. Rynne. “It was a method, in fact, that could be used in every arena of life.” Read more
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