Creative Nonviolence

by Pace e Bene

Peace flag by and courtesy of

Editor’s Preface: This continues our series of purpose statements by our nonviolent movement groups. We have already posted those by the Metta Center for Nonviolence, and the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin. Our own purpose is to build an archive of record on the history and culture of nonviolence. Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end for further information and links. JG

Transforming Power

Creative Nonviolence transforms our lives and our world by unleashing our capacity for connection, compassion, and cooperation. It can help us discover: nonviolent options in the face of the conflicts and challenges we deal with every day; tools for nurturing peaceful relationships and tapping healing power in our lives, and ways to mend the broken circles in our communities and in our larger world.

Through this organized love creative nonviolence can:

  • Break the cycle of violence
  • Free ourselves and others from destructive fear
  • Struggle actively for change
  • Create a more even playing field
  • Celebrate differences while affirming the interdependence of all beings
  • Discover constructive and sustainable ways of life

Global Reality

Creative Nonviolence is the global legacy of every human being. It has been cultivated by communities throughout the world, when faced with enormous oppression and violence. Over the last century, this nonviolent power has been used to challenge violence and injustice in India, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Ukraine, Serbia, and the former Soviet Union.

In the United States, nonviolent movements have sparked several meaningful historical social transformations, including women’s suffrage, the eight hour work day, the ending of legal racial segregation, environmental protection, the stopping of the Vietnam War, the stopping of nuclear testing, and the championing of a wide spectrum of human and civil rights.

Throughout the world, people from all walks of life have unleashed creative nonviolence to work for the survival and dignity of all.

Undoing Violence with a Different Kind of Power

Violence is any personal, interpersonal, institutional or systemic act, attitude, or policy that dehumanizes, diminishes, divides, or destroys. It thrives by means of passive or active support. Creative nonviolence actively withdraws consent from violence and breaks the cycle of retaliation. It creates the conditions for a way that is neither violent nor passive — a way that is more human and effective. It does this by unleashing a different form of power.

Power is the capacity to bring about change. Economist and peace researcher Kenneth Boulding writes that there are three kinds of power: coercive power; exchange power, and integrative power. Building on Boulding’s thought, Professor Michael Nagler highlights the impact of each:

“Coercive power operates by threat and leaves those involved more separated and estranged. Exchange power trades one item for another of equal value, has a neutral impact; it leaves the qualitative relationship between the buyer and the seller unchanged. Integrative, collaborative or unifying power is the power of creative nonviolence and draws parties closer together.”

Violence distances us; creative nonviolence brings us closer together. This is possible because, at our very foundations, we are already connected, united, integrated. As science is revealing in new ways every day, the interconnectedness of all being – the unity and oneness of all life – is a reality. Violence, including injustice and many forms of destructiveness, tears at this web of reality, while creative nonviolence is geared toward rediscovering and strengthening this unity.

Love is the heart of creative nonviolence. This organized love includes loving our opponent. In this context love is a process that acknowledges, safeguards and engages with the humanness, woundedness, and sacredness of the other, while actively challenging and resisting violence and injustice.

Creative nonviolence is a core human value that unifies rather than threatens; integrates rather than fragments and destroys; and transforms rather than tears apart. Love, compassion, hope, possibility, and self-transcendence are rooted within and make possible alternatives to cruelty and violence. These powerful forces draw us to our inmost, elemental foundations, even as they urge us to change the world.

Principles of Creative Nonviolence

  • We all matter.
  • We are all connected.
  • Us versus Them is a distortion of reality.
  • We all have a piece of the truth and the un-truth.
  • We strengthen violence when we cooperate with it.
  • We are not reducible to the evil we commit.
  • The means are the ends in the making and therefore must be consistent.
  • Love is stronger than fear and destruction.

Transforming Us versus Them

Violence is further rooted in and reinforced by the tendency to divide human beings into competing and antagonistic groups: Our Group and the Other Group.

“We” are the good people. “They” are the bad people. The “bad” people threaten us, but they do more than this: they endanger the very order of the universe. “We” are justified in using whatever means necessary, including violence, to stop this threat and to restore order. This therefore becomes a sacred duty – to use violence to end violence, to use violence to reestablish order in the world, and even to use violence to “save” and “redeem” Them,  something they obviously can’t do themselves. Violence therefore promises not only to end the immediate violence, it promises to establish peace once and for all.

We are continually creating this pattern of opposites, of “in-group” and “out-group.” And we do so for the best of intentions. We know that our group has the truth. We also know that the threat is “out there,” and we want to strengthen and protect the “good and truthful” community to which we belong.

But, as Pace e Bene Associate Brendan McKeague stresses, this leads to an incessant cycle of violence. This cycle is a modern version of the ancient practice of “scapegoating.” Based on the work of Rene Girard and Gil Bailie, McKeague has underscored in his Pace e Bene nonviolence workshops how widespread the “scapegoat” pattern is in our lives, our community and our world.

The Scapegoat

Scapegoating developed as a way for a group, a community, or a society to solve the problem of evil or violence it faced. A particular individual or group was deemed the source and cause of the evil or violence and would then be demonized, excluded, or killed. After this “sacrifice,” the community would feel a new sense of oneness and unity, because the evil had been purged and the community had joined together in doing this. Bailie calls this “unanimity minus one.” Rather than seeing this for what it was – the majority projecting its own evil and violence on the minority, blaming it for the crisis at hand, and victimizing the less powerful – the community named what it did as sacred. This was holy work – ridding the community of evil. This becomes “sacred violence” and what Walter Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence.”

The heart of violence is this scapegoating Us versus Them, in thought and in action. Violence is designed to defeat and dominate others and rests on a fundamental distinction and division between Us and Them, which sees them as less than us (inferior); as less than human (an animal or a thing); or as the opposite of being human (evil incarnate); and which also exercises power over them by threat, retaliation and other forms of domination; seeks to preserve or enhance us at the expense of them; establishes order, revitalizes community, (Our group), restores stability, rescues us, and saves the world through sacred violence. Us versus Them upholds a “violence belief system”, that is, a set of beliefs that the universe itself is ultimately an “Us versus Them” universe.

The Heart of Creative Nonviolence: Transforming Us versus Them

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Laureate for Literature, once wrote:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his [or her] own heart?”

In this spirit, creative nonviolence is a process of recognizing that each of us is wounded and sacred, that each of us has a piece of the truth and the un-truth, and that our ability to achieve peace, fairness, dignity and survival depends on seeing this. In other words, projecting our own violence on others and demonizing them (and “angelizing” ourselves) will only interfere with the ability to solve the enormous problems we all face and to construct the future together.

Creative nonviolence is a constructive force rooted in the unity of life and the pursuit of truth, not the assumption that WE have all the truth. Creative Nonviolence is the power of love in action. Its strength lies in the fact that it is a different kind of power: power that unifies rather than threatens; that integrates rather than fragments and destroys; and that is rooted in the human capacity for cooperation, connection, and compassion.

In contrast to the Power of Violence, Creative Nonviolence actively resists dividing the world – or our families or our communities or our societies – into Us versus Them. It seeks to create an ever-expanding circle that excludes no one. And it does so not through scapegoating and the myth of redemptive violence but through the journey – with all of its cost and creativity – toward the well being of all.

Editor’s Note: Pace e Bene was founded in 1989 by a small group of Franciscans. It’s main office is in Long Beach, California, but it has offices and associates in Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington, DC (Metro Area), Montreal, and in Australia, and Nigeria. Their mission is “to foster a just and peaceful world through nonviolent education, community building, and action.” Their website has a rich source of material on nonviolence and is well worth bookmarking.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi