The power of non-violence

Posted on September 12, 2013


“Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single being to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honor, his religion, his soul and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or regeneration.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Non-violence is often a difficult concept to understand, let alone live out in everyday life. In a society that exalts being right and making others wrong (a form of violence), a society with layers of inequality embedded throughout, it is easy to fall into habits of non-violence trueviolence revealing our deep seated addiction to violence. “Violence is any time we violate the identity and integrity of another person…, In America, we are addicted to violence. Like the addict, we need the fix even though know that war is not the way to peace.” (Parker Palmer)

Is non-violence living without any guts, without any balls? Is it avoidance of any conflict?

Non-violence is by far the most courageous, powerful, and effective way of solving interpersonal conflicts as well as societies most intractable problems (remember ML King Jr, Mandela, and Gandhi?). Violence is a way of avoiding direct human conflict because of our fear of being wrong. Violence is a knee jerk, mindless response that carries no sustainable solution. Violence kills the conflict, the fear, rather than facing it and overcoming it.

“We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must non-violence_1198788542cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.”
(Martin Luther King, Jr., “A CHRISTMAS SERMON” 24 December 1967)

Non-violence is living the sacred path of the warrior as described in the Shambhala Tradition. Living with mindfulness, integrity, and intelligence that allows us to balance fearlessness with intelligence. It is also captured by the dynamic balance of power and love described by Adam Kahane in Power and Love (a theory and practice of social change). It is captured by Theory U by Otto Scharmer in learning to open up and live with an open mind, open, heart, and open will. Another way of living non-violently is living in the spirit of dialogue (as defined by David Bohm).

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King, Jr – Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967)

Mindfulness (Integrity)[i]

Mindfulness teaching and practice is a method of becoming more aware of what is real… of who we are as human beings. Integrity is bringing who I am to what I do. The ancient teaching of mindfulness is based on philosophies of being human predating religions and rooted in the cultures of Tibet, India, China, Japan, and Korea. Mindfulness teaches us that there is a goodness that is not conditional but foundational and basic. This goodness is expressed in three elements: Intelligence, Gentleness, and Fearlessness. These three basic elements parallel the three elements above that are required of a healthy Culture of Gentleness.gentleness - fearlessness

Fearlessness: courage, dignity, a brave sacred warrior of life. A sacred warrior has conquered fear and so has nothing left to fight. A sacred warrior is a warrior of peace.

Gentleness: open and vulnerable, a sacred warrior is open and feels all of life, nothing left to run from, nothing to hide from. A sacred warrior opens wide the heart to feel the pain of others, the pain of the world, without flinching, without regret. A sacred warrior relinquishes safety and privacy for others. Available and listening, ready for action as it emerges from the heart.

Intelligence: awareness of who we are and why we are here. Consciousness of how we are living life, of whether we are fully present, of how our lives impact others.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength”. (St. Francis de Sales).

For more on A Fearless Gentleness, see, and for more on the strength of gentleness, see

Adam Kahane: Power and Love[ii]
(a theory and practice of social change)

Complex social problems require profound social change. Too often a society gets stuck, unable to resolve its own issues even power lovethough it has “what it takes” to solve its own problems. Too often we stumble all over ourselves simply because we are approaching a problem without a dynamic balance of love and power. The definition of these words come from Paul Tillich: Love is the bringing  together of that which is separate. Power is the drive to reach greatest potential. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power if sentimental and anemic.” Social change (and individual transformation) requires the dyamic balance of both love and power. Like walking, love and power are used alternately in a situation based on what is needed. Like walking, they tend to need to be alternated, leaving us a bit off balance in the process.

Otto Scharmer: Theory U[iii]
The Social Technology of Profound Change

Global research on profound change and innovation in organizations and communities show that there are two ways that learning occurs. Learning from the past and learning from the future as it emerges. Learning from the past (research-based, evidence-based, exeriential learning) tends to give us more of the same although we select the “best” more-of-the-same. Learning from the future requires that we shift our focus, perspectives, and experiences so that we can put ourselves in unfamiliar situations that open heart mind willclosely relate to stakeholders that would be impacted by the change. Then we observe, observe, observe, so that we learn to redirect our focus and learn to see from the perspective of the stakeholder. This process requires three elements that parallel the three elements throughout the philosophies above.

Opening the Mind is the process of realizing how we “download” so much of culture, beliefs, perspectives, and learning. This habitual practice stops us from seeing things with fresh eyes. The inability to see things with new eyes stops the learning process. We must first see and then let go of our mental models before change is possible.

Opening the Heart is the process of redirecting our perspective from self to other, seeing through eyes of those that are being impacted by the social issues that require change.

Opening the Will is the willingness and ability (courage and fearlessness) to “act in an instant” when we see from this perspective what is needed; prototyping a solution to see how it works and then evaluating the effectiveness.

[i] Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa, 1988

[ii] Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, Adam Kahane, 2010