Nonviolence is sometimes viewed as an event–a rally, a protest, a sit-in, etc. But this is not what defines nonviolence. As a way of love, it is a way of life. Actions are not enough; in fact, they cannot be sustained when opposition reaches the breaking point. Nonviolent resistance comes from something deep inside–something that abides.
In his book, ‘Walk with the Wind,’ John Lewis describes how the refusal to strike back became a disposition of the heart. It began with a strong decision of the will, but it had to become a powerful desire–not simply resisting the temptation to hit back, but coming to the place of not wanting to.
The practical method for this was to view the harmer as a baby, remembering there was a time when the person did not act the way he or she was behaving in the present moment. The harmer was once a pure, innocent child. When the person was viewed as an infant, Lewis said that a deep sadness would descend into his heart, revealing that the real victim was the one doing him harm–a person who had fallen prey to attitudes that led to the degrading action.
Nelson Mandella came to hold a similar view toward those who advocated apartheid in South Africa and who inflicted imprisonment and punishment on him for decades. It was only after his release that some of his prison guards spoke of his abiding kindness and compassion even when they were causing him to suffer. They could not defeat him because they could not break his spirit and make him become what they were.
Nonviolence gains its ultimate strength not from power, but from perspective–looking beneath the present moment to the deeper realities which are fueling the fire of resentment in one’s oppressors making the victimizers the victims of their own attitudes and actions. There is nothing sadder than having to live in the prison cell you yourself have made.
So, nonviolence is not a technique or a tool, it is the exercise of love, peace, and compassion in every moment. It is a response in the ordinary moments as much at is in the challenging ones. It is a way of life.