According to historian B.R. Nanda, nonviolence is the kind of thing where “you can lose all of the battles and go on to win the war,” exemplifying the principle that Gandhi articulates: violence and nonviolence do not work in the the same way. The reason behind this claim is that energy–violent or nonviolent–builds up. While violent energy as it builds always destroys, and in greater and greater degrees, nonviolence, each time we add to its stock, grows in creative and constructive ways. So while you may seem not to be carrying your point in a nonviolent campaign, by virtue of being nonviolent you are slowly working on your opponent (and anyone watching). It’s the difference, suggests Michael Nagler in The Search for a Nonviolent Future, between fighting fire with fire or fire with water — the preferred method!.
Ok, so it seems sound in theory, but does it work in practice? Well, think about the classic example of the Salt March. While it didn’t achieve its intended ends, everyone knew that independence was already there. Time will certainly prove that movements such as Occupy, while they didn’t change the whole system, was a step in the direction of something much greater one day down the road. People around the world could feel that, viscerally, intuitively.
It’s like opening a jar (and yes, you should try this in your next class or workshop). You have nine people try, and each time someone tries but fails to open the jar, the lid is a little easier to turn. Finally, the ninth person opens it. It was the cumulative work of everyone’s efforts. Nonviolence works just like that.
The next time you open a lid today, remember nonviolence works differently than violence.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org