A Bad Word

There is not a problem with the idea of nonviolence; there is a problem with the word “nonviolence.” The definition is flat and does not encompass what nonviolence truly is.  Let’s break down the word. The prefix “non” means “no” or “not doing.” The word “violence” is defined by Webster dictionary as “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Therefore, nonviolence is not being violent. Hmm, well not quite. The Webster dictionary defines nonviolence as “use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about political or social change.” Certainly, that’s part of it, but this course has shown there is so much more to this unassuming word.

I think the prefix “non” has a power to discredit whatever word follows it. Noncommittal. Nonbeliever. Nonabsorbent. These words describe an inability. Nonviolence is not an inability to be violent. It is a conscientious choice to not use violence.

There is a large difference between pacifism and passivism. Sure, reading this, the difference is clear. However, say the words aloud or try mixing them up in casual conversation. They become interchangeable. The first is a belief that any violence is unjustifiable. The second is allowing things to happen without trying to change anything. There could not be a larger difference, and yet these words are often mistaken for synonyms.

Nonviolence does not use force, but that does not mean it is not strong. There is the idea that nonviolence is not doing anything, but that is far from the truth. Nonviolent social and political movements are not the easy way out. In fact, they often take more creativity. Nonviolence also is a type of warfare. It takes organizing, planning, commitment, and execution. The difference is the means to obtain an end. Nonviolent warfare uses boycotts rather than bullets; protests rather than paratroopers.

Three weeks into the course, I cannot offer an alternative word, but only highlight a deficiency in language in the word nonviolence.

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