How can I be nonviolent to myself and to my enemy in crisis situations? How can we collectively and productively practice nonviolence, both in our private and public space? Activist Michael Nagler, author of  The Nonviolence Handbook: A Practical Guidebook, proposes six guidelines for non-violent life style. 

Since nonviolence can be a safe, effective and lasting way to defeat injustice, he holds that like any other science it takes knowledge, courage and determination. Writing in openDemocracy, he proposes the guidelines based on fundamental values: (1) We are not against other people, only what they are doing. (2) Means are ends in the making; nothing good can ultimately result from violence.

The first guideline is to respect everyone, including oneself. The more we respect others, the more effectively we can persuade them to change. So we should never use humiliation as a tool–or accept humiliation from others, as that only degrades everyone. Healing relationships is the real success in nonviolence, something violence can never achieve. Even in a case of extreme violence, Gandhi felt it was possible to hate the sin, not the sinner.

The next guideline is to include constructive alternatives always. Concrete action is always more powerful than mere symbolism, especially when that action creates constructive alternatives: setting up schools, forming cottage industries, establishing farming cooperatives, devising community-friendly banking. As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” A good rule of thumb to follow is: Be constructive wherever possible, and obstructive wherever necessary.

The third guideline urges us to be aware of the long-term effects. Nagler is convinced that nonviolent action always has positive results, sometimes more than we intended. He admits that violence sometimes “works” in the sense that it forces a particular change, but in the long run, it leads to more misery and disorder. His handy formula: Violence sometimes “works” but it never works in the long run. Nonviolence sometimes “works” and always works.

The next guideline tells us to look for win-win solutions. We are in fact trying to rebuild relationships rather than score “victories.” In a conflict, in order for one side to win the other must lose. In a nonviolent struggle, we do not seek to be winners or rise over others; we seek to learn and make things better for all. As Martin Luther King Jr holds, the “psychology of victors,”  that of boasting of a victory, belongs to the age-old dynamic of me-against-you, but the nonviolent person sees life as a “co-evolution” toward loving community in which all can thrive.

The fifth guideline invites us to use power carefully. We are conditioned to think that power “grows out of the barrel of a gun.” There is indeed a kind of power that comes from brute force — but it is powerless if we refuse to comply with it. With care we need to use our nonviolent power, as Gandhi said, “not only speak to the head but move the heart also.” 

The last guideline is to claim our legacy. When we use nonviolence with courage, determination and a clear strategy, we will more than likely succeed. Even if we lose, we are playing our part in a great transformation of human relationships that our future depends on.

These principles are based on our conviction that together we form an interconnected whole and that when we understand our real needs, we are not rivals. As Martin Luther King said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

(The writer is professor of science, religion and philosophy and author of Gratefully and Gracefully)

Kuruvilla Pandikattu