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Commit to nonviolence and change the world

Jun 1, 2009

"There is too much violence in the world" you say. Well, if that's how you feel, what are you going to do about it? You may feel you are helpless to change the world, but you are not. The way you will change the world is through the power of your own behavior.

The more we behave aggressively towards others, the more they will be aggressive towards us and others. The more we are abusive towards our partners and friends, the more they will be abusive towards us. "Violence begets violence" and "Abuse begets abuse". Even if we feel we are entitled to be aggressive, such as in retaliation of aggression done to us, we are not stopping aggressiveness from happening in the future, but instead reinforcing the behavior. Others learn from the behaviors that we model, not from what we tell them to do. So if we want the world to be less violent, or we want our partner to be less abusive, we must learn to be nonaggressive even in the face of aggression, and we must learn to be nonabusive, even in the face of abusiveness. As Ghandhi said, "You must BE the change you want to see in the world".

Before we can begin to be nonviolent, we must define what violence is and narrow it down to specific behaviors. For the purpose of our programs and workbooks, we define violence and abuse as "any attempt to hurt, control or punish". You will note that we define abuse the same as violence because abuse IS violence and vice versa. You will also note that not all violence is physical, just as not all abuse is physical. We can also have verbal and emotional violence/abuse. Again, if our intent is to hurt, control or punish we are being violent/abusive. With physical violence it is clear that our intent is to hurt, control or punish, even if we are doing it in self defense. We are being verbally violent or abusive when we attempt to hurt, control or punish someone emotionally through the use of degrading, blaming or intimidating language. Emotional violence/abuse takes in an even broader range of behaviors. Any physical or verbal violence/abuse is also emotional violence/abuse because it's intent is to control the other person emotionally. Other nonverbal, nonphysical behaviors can be emotional violence/abuse such as controlling how much money a person has, or who they are friends with or whether they work, or by ignoring them or looking at them in a scary way.

So how can we apply this knowledge to our own behaviors? We would want to inspect our own behaviors and identify the things we do when we want to hurt, punish or control someone. This requires an "honest" evaluation of our true intent. Once we have discerned how we do this, then we have learned what we can change to make our own personal committment to non-violence.

If we use physical violence, clearly our assignment would be to start using nonphysical ways of dealing with our feelings, such as taking a time out when too angry or telling someone how we feel instead of punching them in the face. If we use verbal violence to control others emotionally, we want to work on ways to be respectful in the way we express our feelings and on how to let go of needing to control what the outcome is or what the other person does or feels. We could be less defensive or allow others their opinion without arguing. If we use other forms of emotional violence to control others, we need to work on allowing others to have their own mind and their own free will.

As you can see, what we are always working on to become more nonviolent/nonabusive is to learn to control others less. We must accept that we cannot control others' behaviors or minds. We can only control our own behaviors and mind. Wherever we are on the violence/abuse continuum, we can always improve by going one more notch towards noncontrol. All of us can improve some way in this area and that will be our contribution to a nonviolent world.

Being nonviolent does not mean we do not set boundaries for ourselves. This means that not only will we behave in a nonviolent/noncontrolling way, but we will also not be willing to accept violence, abuse or control from others. We will set healthy limits. We will let others know it is not okay to treat us that way and we will do this in a way that is still respectful of the other person.

Thus the world will change, little by little. When we behave in a respectful, noncontrolling way, even in the face of disrespect, we will influence others through this behavior and they will be empowered to change as well. If instead we persist in "fighting fire with fire" and react to every misdeed by "giving them a dose of their own medicine", we will perpetuate the very thing about the world that we hate - violence.

Lorraine Watson (The Anger Master)

"Nonviolenceeducation.com" - Education for a Better World - nonviolenceeducation@gmail.com