I’m rereading Mark Kurlansky’s Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. If Kurlansky sounds familiar, it’s probably because he was the guy who taught us about the role of cod and salt in history.
In an appendix to the book, Kurlansky lists what he feels are 25 lessons about non-violence that emerge from his overview of its history. As a sort of mental exercise, I thought I’d write a brief post about each of the 25 lessons, on a more or less daily basis for the next month.
The first of Kurlansky’s lessons is this: There is no proactive word for nonviolence.
If you pick up just about any book about nonviolence, this topic comes up. Nonviolence, as the word itself suggests, is defined negatively as an absence of violence. But this isn’t true. Nonviolence in the way practiced by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others is an active act, a positive one. Satyagraha, a word coined by Gandhi for his actions, translates to “truth force.” Unfortunately, it has never caught on (although I’m pleasantly surprised that, as I type this, Microsoft Word apparently acknowledges this word's existence, since no yucky red squiggly line shows up below it when I type it).
What we do and don’t have words for reveals something about our culture. Like the semi-mythical assertion that the Inuit peoples have a gazillion words for “snow” because its so much a part of their lives, perhaps we have so many words for various kinds of violence (and none for nonviolence) precisely because violence is such a part of our culture, while active, peaceful confrontation is so rare.
At the risk of verging into the esoteric, though, I’d suggest there is a word for nonviolence.
Consider the following actions: