Words of Nonviolence

Whenever I discuss or read on nonviolence, something always brought up is the lack of a definite word that is the complete antonym of violence; but not simply the opposite, because we want it to mean to be for something as well. Whether Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or one of many of the other faith traditions or of none at all, it seems we all want a word better than “nonviolence.” It says what we aren’t, but it doesn’t say, more importantly, what we are.

I don’t think the problem is we don’t have the words to do it. On the contrary, we have too many! Love, joy, friendship, peace, hope, charity, justice, kindness, compassion, truth. All of these are the exact opposite of violence, because violence is completely unable to ever be one of these. The list could keep going, including serenity and many more excellent words and attributes. Moreover, I’m plenty happy to be for any of these instead of just being against violence.

Though, if I use all of these words to describe what I’m for, I’m not very succinct and may bore the people I’m with. Gandhi attempted to establish new words to be brief, whether it be “ahisma” (no harm) or “satyagraha” (soul force or truth force). These are good words, but leave something to be looked for. They are at least active in saying I am working for a change to this broken system instead of saying I’m against this unjust and violent system but don’t do much.

Possibly the best word I’ve come across is the Hebrew “shalom,” which roughly means “peace.” However, it means much more than that. It means a peace in which we all treat every person justly, all things are in right relationship and no person goes unfed, homeless or uncared for; all things are in their right, loving state. Now that is a heck of a word and idea to be for!

My final though, is what if we don’t want just one word after all? What if it’s good to have so many others? When someone asks me, “You don’t ever believe in the use of violence?,” I can reply, “I believe in the use of love, justice and compassion.” Having all these words demonstrates how many magnificent alternatives there are to violence. Violence gets one word, but nonviolence gets so many. We see just what a good idea and alternative nonviolence is when we see how many beautiful aspects it has, like a many-sided diamond. So let us sometimes be succinct, but others, tell the whole story.

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