Davide Melodia's writings

Non-violence: not an easy option

PART I

For me, non-violence is, before everything else, the extension to society of love of one's neighbour.

At the time of choosing non-violence as an integral part of one's life, one needs to be aware of the gulf which separates our way of being up to now, and the way we need to be from now on. Having said that, one should not be discouraged. Gandhi, from boyhood, was afraid of his own shadow.

It is absolutely not enough to have accepted it in one's mind. One needs complete coherence and fusion of mind and will. If an activist tries to achieve it merely by non-violent techniques, with their social and political connotations, without first taking that inward journey of analysis, followed by going over examples from history in the light of their values, the risk would be of only scratching the surface of that new and "other" world that non-violence brings.

Non-violence comes to be seen as a living presence in you which calls you, questions you, challenges you, searches your depths, reveals to your conscience who you really are, what you really desire, and does not conceal any of the difficulties that you will come to meet. And it tells you, quite clearly, that if you want to reach the goal, you can do so, indeed you must do so, by means of the strength, and the wings, of truth.

It is a demanding master, an invisible preacher who speaks from an invisible but awfully present pulpit, to a crowd of lost souls who bear on their shoulders the seething cauldron of violence, and have before them the steep slopes of the peaceful mountain still to climb.

You are amongst that crowd. And you feel that you are being addressed.

And, little by little, the master explains the values, the principles, the ways and means, the times and seasons, that will be with you on that journey into peace.

In life, the moment comes when one has to make a fundamental choice. It may happen that there is time for deep, calm reflection at the parting of the ways between the road of violence and the road of non-violence. It may happen that there is no time, but the choice will need to be made anyway. There is a third choice, that of indifference, which is taken by those who love only themselves, and who want to avoid the risks inherent in the other two choices.


Loving clarity, let us examine what the two fundamental choices entail.

1) The common choice of violence

Obstacles are to be overcome, at any cost. And this - in view of the laws of economics, of the market, of science, of technology; of manufacturers, magnates, financial institutions, governments that have neither sensitivity to ecology nor respect for the life of their neighbours - in a ruthless environment. The main thing is to produce, to sell, to dominate, to achieve hegemony over production, local and global markets, without bothering about the irreparable damage done to land, air, water, and to people's health: "Après moi le déluge".

In internal and international conflicts - confronted with protests, rebellions, territorial demands, requests for justice for the weak, for immigrants - the strong use an iron fist, repression, prison, internment, the death penalty - war. They use ever more powerful means for the destruction of people, of buildings, of territory, pitilessly drawing in unarmed civilians.

After a war it takes decades for the huge task of reconstruction, through the efforts of the children of the fallen, of the widows of those who died in the torture chambers and concentration camps. These ones are all too ready to take up arms once more against tomorrow's "enemies".

It is not worth the trouble of setting out on that path.

Civilization cannot keep on starting its journey over and over again from nothing, with barbarous cave-man psychology and the chilly technical arrogance of the modern military.

It is time to consider a different course.

2) The choice of non-violence

Let us set aside for the time being a whole set of traditional concepts and principles, such as glory, honour, victory, might, to take them up again at another time, after a brief analysis of the objectives we wish to achieve. Let us do the same for science, technology and sophisticated weaponry.

Let us start afresh from conscience, and from certain values which it is right to cultivate and, if possible, to put into practice. Let us say: life, harmony, collaboration, justice, respect.

What prevents us, in the face of some decision by Authority X, from saying no, where to go along with that decision would result in serious damage to the environment and to people?

Why do we not dare to say no to the intention of our government to wage war against another state?

If we do not take into account the terrible consequences of war, for ourselves as well; if we give in to the grandiose words of war propaganda, if we do not seek the truth about the underlying motivations for waging war; if we fear to put ourselves in the perilous position of refusing involvement in the war effort; then there are grounds for doubt about whether we are right, about how civilized we are, about our declared respect for life.

If instead we have the courage to weigh up the pros and cons of peace and of war, and our civil duty to preserve the life of every living being with all possible means, and if we decide deliberately to place ourselves at risk to prevent harm at this key point in time, then we have finally taken on board the way of non-violence. But we may be still on its first leg. The rest of the journey will be assessed at the next stage.

3) As for the non-choice of those who don't care, who turn inwards, and leave the world to live or die at a safe distance, we will not waste our breath.

PART II

To cross over from Utopia to the realization - total or partial - of peace, what needs to be done?

To struggle effectively and deliberately against violence, or against strong, violent adversaries, one needs to take account of the reasons - whether from education, principle, values, lack of values, means, methods or whatever - why they act in a given way. And since some characteristics of a violent adversary are also present within ourselves, we ought, if we have the time and the will, to lay our psychology on the psychoanalyst's couch and analyse, to begin with...

The roots of violence:

And in all conscience we cannot declare that, in one or more of these situations, we have not personally adopted one form or another of violence. But the concept, the social and humanitarian message of non-violence, and the example of Jesus, of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King, has at some time captivated us, and we have embraced it at least intellectually. And here we may note that, if we do not take into account on the one hand the difficulties, and on the other, the great potential of non-violence, in putting these ideas into practice, we are, and we remain, speakers of the word only, and not doers.

For the sake of brevity, let us sketch out a short list of non-violent responses:


In general, those without direct knowledge of non-violence tend to discount the spirit of peace in the one who chooses it, and they think that it must have been out of fear or weakness that he or she renounced the use of force, along with the courage which, generally speaking, they believe is necessary to oppose the "enemy". So let us distinguish the concepts of force, violence and the enemy.

Force, of itself, is neutral, and as it clearly has no personality, or will of its own, that depends on who uses it, and how. And here we may say that the use of force for a normal, legitimate activity, such as work or sport, does not create any problems. The trouble is when force, an object like any other, is used to do violence to someone, to a social group, to a people. Then the force becomes, in a manner of speaking, the long arm of the violent intention, like an unwilling accomplice.

Violence has the capacity to do wrong, to assault even without the use of force, and this is a further reason not to confuse force with violence.

All in all, every evaluation should take well into account the degree of responsibility of everything and everyone.

The non-violent do not renounce violence for fear of losing the struggle, but because they want the struggle to be free from violence, so that the struggle can be made into an instrument for growth, for deepening truth, for justice and for freedom, without bringing the suffering and destruction that happens to all those who undergo violence. Thus, non-violent people do not give up the struggle, but employ themselves separating the two components of force and violence, keeping each one exactly in its right place.

Using force in a way that is serious, deliberate, responsible, constructive, the non-violent allow human beings to benefit from force, where and when it serves as a positive instrument, recognising it as a gift of nature, worthy of being here, which should not disappear. But even then, as in all aspects of non-violence, force, as an instrument, however precious, should not be used ostentatiously.

Every instrument must be used for reaching a goal. So the goal should always be kept in sight, and given due consideration. And, in its turn, the goal set by the non-violent person is not to be reached by any means whatever, but only by means that are in accordance with it. The means available to the non-violent, in the case of a struggle for justice, or other objective worthy of a struggle, are many and varied. They must, however, be deeply rooted in the conscience of those who join the struggle. For example, respect.

This element, which obviously forms part of the tool-kit of the non-violent, (we use the term in full knowledge that no-one is perfectly so, but aspires to and grows into it) is not based solely on the old saying "respect to be respected", but starts out from the deep conviction

If the principle of respect is more than a formality, but rather a spiritual imperative, reaching full expression as "bring out the best in the other", it corresponds to a Quaker principle, "answer that of God in every one". As Dante's "Amor, ch'a nullo amato amar perdona" ("Love, who exempts no loved one from loving"), likewise this attitude cannot fail to find a positive response in the other.

It is difficult to resist an outstretched hand.

And, in the end, the other is not the enemy.
Different, certainly.
Brought up to violence, perhaps...
But a human being.
It is up to you to help others find their own humanity, if someone has taken it away from them.
The "enemy", for the non-violent, need not exist.


Fenner Brockway recounted that he once said to Gandhi, "Christ taught us: love your enemies". To which Gandhi replied, "I don't have enemies." *

Do I have enemies?

Davide Melodia - Verbania, Christmas 2002

Translated by Simon Grant: please send improvements.


* The above conversation was recounted by Lord Brockway during a Convention in his honour in Bombay, a few days before the opening of the XVIII Triennal of War Resisters International, at Vedchi, India, Dec. 1985-Jan.1986. It had taken place in London, during the Second Round Table for the Independence of India, in 1931.

Original italian
Some writings of Davide Melodia

Revised 2003-01-08