1st Module - Exploring Nonviolence
Rate the contents of this page:
People’s understanding of what nonviolence actually is may be diverse. Groups and individuals with different religious identities and political or cultural backgrounds may have different opinions about it. Even within the same group, different views may co-exist. Some may equate nonviolence with passivity and submission, whilst others may see active ways to challenge power and restore social justice. Values people associate with nonviolence may differ from one culture to another.
While it is perfectly normal for people to have different opinions and understandings about nonviolence, for a group that wants to use nonviolent methods for social change developing a shared understanding is crucial. A group’s understanding of nonviolence will determine its strategy and methods of action; a shared understanding will determine its cohesion.
Given the variety of understandings, it might be tempting for the facilitator to impose his or her own understanding of nonviolence. Here we suggest using activities to help the group explore its diversity and let members develop their own shared understanding. The offline and online resources referred to here can be used to stimulate discussion.
- Gandhi, Mohandas K., Gandhi's Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Washington D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1954.
- King, Martin Luther Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., (Edited by James Melvin) Washington, San Francisco: Harper, 1986.
- Wink, Walter, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003
- Dugan, Máire A. "Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action", in Beyond Intractability, Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess (eds.), Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003, .
This is a good article for introducing nonviolence, starting from common misconceptions deriving from terminology and confusion with like-sounding terms. It contains chapters on nonviolence as a philosophy and lifestyle, Ghandi’s and King’s approaches to nonviolent action (very essential) and nonviolence purely as a political strategy (Sharp’s approach).
- Sharp, Gene, There Are Realistic Alternatives, Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution, 2003, 
In this essay Gene Sharp explores a different perspective on the nature of the problem of widespread violence. Conflict in society and politics is inevitable, in many cases necessary. Some conflicts might be resolved by mild methods involving compromise (negotiation, dialogue, conciliation). But there are acute conflicts, where fundamental issues are at stake and compromise through mild methods is not possible – or not desirable for many. These are conflicts where issues like freedom, justice or identity are at stake. These conflicts need to be fought. Sharp argues that nonviolent struggle is a realistic alternative to war and violence.
- Sharp, Gene, Correcting Common Misconceptions About Nonviolent Struggle, 
A handout sheet addressing common misconceptions about nonviolent action and answering some frequently asked questions.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Nonviolence", Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  (accessed 16 November 2006).
This is an introductory Wiki article on nonviolence with plenty of links to further resources.
- Gandhi, Mohandas K., Gandhi's Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Washington D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1954. There are several online editions of this book, one is here. 
- Martin, Brian, “Nonviolent Defence: The Burrowes’ Approach”, in Nonviolence Today, #55, July/August 1997, available at .
This essay is a review of Robert J. Burrowes’ The Strategy of Nonviolence Defence: A Gandhian Approach. Burrowes has developed a matrix providing a useful framework for describing different approaches to nonviolence. Nonviolent approaches can be divided along two axes: principled versus pragmatic, and revolutionary versus reformist.
- Shreck, N., The Faithful Nonviolence of Jesus , Pace e Bene Nonviolent Service. "Jesus’ resistance to violence begins on the first page of the gospel and continues through to the end. It is reflected in daily activities of touching, speaking, healing and eating, but is first born in Jesus' vision of the reign of God. When we think of the nonviolence of Jesus we often focus on Jesus’ response to situations of confrontation and violence. In this essay we will explore such situations, but I suggest that they are not the starting point. This attitude of Jesus is formed long before those confrontational situations take place. In fact, those situations occur most often as a result of his nonviolent vision and approach to life" [from the introduction].
- Wink, W., Christian Nonviolence , ZNet. "Many who have committed their lives to working for change and justice in the world simply dismiss Jesus' teachings about nonviolence as impractical idealism. And with good reason. "Turn the other cheek" suggests the passive, Christian doormat quality that has made so many Christians cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. "Resist not evil" seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and counsel submission. "Going the second mile" has become a platitude meaning nothing more than "extend yourself." Rather than fostering structural change, such attitudes encourage collaboration with the oppressor. Jesus never behaved in such ways. Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, it is neither Jesus nor his teaching, which, when given a fair hearing in its original social context, is arguably one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered" [from the introduction].
- Sharp, G., Gandhi's Political Significance, Pace e Bene Nonviolent Service.  "[...] does Gandhi still have any political significance? With the passing of years and the opportunity for a more distant perspective, how is Gandhi to be evaluated? Are there points at which our earlier judgment must be revised?" Sharp clears the way from misunderstandings and misattributions to get to the heart of Gandhi's nonviolent struggle.
Activities you can use when working on this section include:
- Brainstorming on Nonviolence. A classic brainstorming exercise.
- Five Pros, Five Cons. It uses a model for brainstorming and selection of ideas, asking participants to develop arguments for and against nonviolence. In a second phase you can help participants explore their ideas more deeply.
- Brainstorming on Violence and Nonviolence. A simple brainstorming exercise exploring participants’ understanding of violence and nonviolence. It tries to avoid facile glorifications of nonviolence by pointing to contradictions and inviting participants to reflect on when violence is acceptable.
- The Nonviolence Sociogram. A simple model that asks participants to explore their beliefs about and around nonviolence. It involves physical activity. Easy and quick to play, it can lead to comprehensive discussions.
- Pieces of the Truth. One of Gandhi’s key principles is that no one possesses the entire truth. Rather, each of us possesses a piece of the truth and the un-truth. Nonviolent struggle seeks to reveal the pieces of the truth of both parties so that solutions can be constructed that incorporate them. This activity will help participants explore this principle.
- Our Value System for Nonviolence. This activity helps participants explore what values surround nonviolence in their community, culture or tradition. Then, it helps them to "discover" and organise their value system for nonviolence.
- Resist No One Who Is Evil? This activity builds on an article by the Biblical scholar, Walter Wink. Firstly, participants are asked to meditate on and interpret a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (5:38-41). As a facilitator you should then generate a discussion based on participants’ reflections. Finally, you’ll need to introduce the content of Wink’s article.
- Engaging With Nonviolence. Four sub-groups: two are asked to write cases illustrating violent attitudes in the family, the workplace or community settings; the other two do the opposite, and write cases illustrating nonviolent attitudes. The cases are then switched, and each sub-group role-plays a case. It can be fun to role-play and it provides experience for a thorough debriefing.