0.10 – Why Nonviolent Discipline? (Avoiding Chaos and Vandalism)

December 10th, 2011

This is Ethiopian Review Policy Research Center’s series on From Dictatorship to Democracy extracted/quoted from books and articles published by Albert Einstein Institution and similar sources.

“Undisciplined strength or strength which is not in keeping with right principles can never lead to a beneficial fruition. It could lead to danger for many.”

Regardless of whether the use of mass protests, strikes, boycotts, sabotage or nonviolent coercion… is chosen as the primary mechanism for gaining total liberation, violence against any other human being must be avoided in a strategic nonviolence campaign.

  • Nonviolence: Strategic nonviolence to be as effective as possible, we must never use violence or threats of violence in any situation.
  • Nonhostility: We need the discipline to treat everyone– ignorant or hostile members of the public, activists we disagree with, etc.–with respect. We must maintain a dignified and calm composure during all of our interactions with others, while also being truthful, humble, non-judgmental, nurturing, and open-minded.

So Why Nonviolence Discipline?

Behaving in a nonviolent and non hostile manner is vital to strategic nonviolence for three major reasons:

  • It increases the sympathy and support we receive,

Nonviolent and non hostile action maximizes the sympathy and support we receive. By promoting our issues in a non-judgmental, humble, truthful, respectful, calm, and dignified manner, we remove the distractions of arrogance and hostility, focusing more attention on the issue. Our honorable behavior  gains us the public’s respect and makes them more open-minded and sympathetic  towards our ideas.

  • It helps induce mutiny among the opposition,

Nonviolent and non hostile behavior also helps induce mutiny in the opposition’s camp. Our commitment to non hostile behavior prevents the opposition  from feeling physically or emotionally threatened by us, and makes them more willing to consider our ideas and question their own behavior. Our collective  integrity reveals the opposition’s own hostility, violence, and lies to themselves. Some opposition members will not be influenced by these realizations, but others will feel ashamed and be alienated by the immoral conduct of their more brazen peers. Therefore, by showing goodwill and friendliness towards the opposition while remaining assertive (fearless) and persistent, we undermine some opponent members’ loyalty to their industries.

That said, we must avoid unrealistic expectations for converting our opponents as they have a strong financial self-interest for continuing to support the tyrant.

  • It attracts maximum participation in the struggle.

Besides inducing mutiny, nonviolent discipline helps attract maximum participation within our struggle. Many activists who join hostile groups drop out because they disagree with the group’s tactics. Most people perceive non hostile actions as more legitimate than violent or hostile ones, and therefore  are more willing to support and participate in them.

Furthermore, groups that show hostility towards the opposition are more likely to show the same hostility to group members who do not meet their standards.
Such inter-movement hostility creates an oppressive and stifling environment that disempowers activists and leads many to exit the struggle. We must maintain nonviolent discipline not only towards our opposition, but also towards our own comrades, so that we foster a supportive movement based on mutual respect, trust, and understanding. Such an appealing environment maintains morale, empowers activists, and encourages activists to remain in the struggle.

And, unlike a military struggle which requires its troops to be physically strong and agile–thus excluding many from getting involved–nonviolent struggles can utilize everyone regardless of whether they are strong or weak, able-bodied or crippled, young or old, educated or uneducated. Nonviolent struggles can recruit from all sectors of society, thereby giving us an advantage over violent struggles whose strict requirements limit those who can participate.

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