Nonviolence has been a practice that many prominent social activists have practiced, including Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi.
When one thinks about major events in history involving human rights, many of these events are centered around a violent act that led to a solution and measures to prevent such acts, such as genocide or war crimes, from happening again.
However, another form of social activism presents an alternative solution to war and a violent resolution to problems. Nonviolence, or the active practice of refusing to use violence to solve violent problems, has been a part of social activism for hundreds of years.
While the organized term “nonviolence” is relatively new in the way that people respond to violence, organized resistance to oppression has been noted throughout history.
The first event associated with contemporary nonviolent practices was Mohandas Gandhi’s campaign for native rights in South Africa in 1906. Previous nonviolent acts, such as Henry David Thoreau’s practices of civil disobedience as chronicled in his work “On Resistance to Civil Government” and Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad system are also examples of nonviolent protests.
Those who practice nonviolence are also politically involved in their communities and work in many areas of their private lives to promote the dignity of individuals.
Practicing nonviolence is, however, different than being a pacifist. Believing and living nonviolent practices means being skeptical that violence is a solution to societal problems. These beliefs are carried out in a nonviolent person’s lifestyle by promoting peaceful resolutions to violent problems.
Nonviolence is more than just an idea to bring about social change. According to the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACTUP), nonviolence is what many practitioners call an “active lifestyle,” meaning that it is not a philosophy to believe in, but to live. Nonviolent people also incorporate practices such as purchasing from socially responsible companies, using nonviolent discipline, and many other ideas while trying to live peacefully.
Those who lead nonviolent lifestyles speak out against societal issues in peaceful ways. Protests, sit-ins, limited property damage, hunger strikes, marches, and peaceful civil resistance are ways in which those skeptical of violence make their voices heard as a collective unit.
Nonviolence is also celebrated every year during the Season for Nonviolence, which begins on January 30 and ends April 4. The dates commemorate the assassinations of Mahatma Gandhi (January 30) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4) and the work of social activists and advocates of peace is celebrated during this time.
Nonviolence vs. Pacifism
Although the two schools of thought may sound similar, there is a difference between nonviolence and pacifism.
Those who live a nonviolent lifestyle are not completely against violence. However, according to the Ashland Center for Nonviolence, nonviolent practitioners are highly skeptical that violence is a solution to violent problems, but also understand that sometimes human emotions go unchecked and can become violent before the emotions are realized. They are, instead, committed to finding alternative peaceful solutions to violent problems and to promoting the dignity of all individuals.
Pacifists, on the other hand, are against violence in all forms. Those who believe in pacifism may not take action on political or societal issues to avoid possible violent confrontation.
Violence is a problem that has been present in societies around the world throughout history. However, practicing nonviolence to solve social issues provides an alternative school of thought to solve problems and heal wounds caused by violence without creating new ones.
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