Perhaps as a child you learned this retort to insults: “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Experience, however, is a different matter–words do hurt. It is not a matter of only insulting words, even loving words when said in a tone that confers less dignity to us than we are worth, can do harm. Similarly, thoughts also hurt us. If someone in our life does not believe us to be worthy of their time and love, it can cause alienation and psychological harm. In short, we must recognize that emotional violence is as harmful as physical violence, if not more so, since we cannot see its effects immediately.
Since a human being is an integral whole of mind, body and spirit, our nonviolence must also be integral. Merely abstaining from physical violence is only one stage of development, we also have to abstain from spiritual and emotional violence. By striving to expand our nonviolence into deeper, unseen parts of ourselves, we can feel its power and effectiveness increase as well. And there will come a time in all of our lives and movements when we need to draw on those deeper resources.
The next time you want to think something negatively about a person engaging in an action with which you disagree, reframe it in a constructive and positive way in your mind that upholds the dignity of that person. What does it reveal about how to change or resist that person’s negative behavior?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org