Violence and Nonviolence are a Choice

Violence is a Choice

I was recently reminded of the idea that the commitment of any violent act is a choice. My years studying conflict resolution have led me to thinking that violence is a failure of the conflict resolution process. However, people can always choose to resort to violence, even as they go through the process of trying to resolve conflict.

Additionally, there is the idea that some people view violence as their only option; they can see no other way out of a conflict besides hurting and damaging the other person. Think about it: we all lash out when we feel cornered. We can easily resort to violence when we feel so much stress that we can no longer think our way out of our predicament. Keep in mind, violence is not just physical assault. Violence encompasses many forms of mental and psychological attack as well as various types of abuse.

Is Nonviolence the Better Choice?

Many people think that nonviolence is the best option under any circumstance.  I remember my daughter coming home from school one day to explain to me that “violence is never the answer!” My reply to her was that it depends on what question is being asked.

Véronique Dudouet describes people who practice a philosophical, or “principled,” form of nonviolence; she called this Gandhian nonviolence. Gandhians are people who will practice nonviolence even as they are under attack. She also describes a pragmatic, or “Sharpian,” form of nonviolence practiced by people who typically have no better options. Sharpians could choose the option of violence if they think it will work, but will remain nonviolent as long as it provides them some advantage.

There are times when conflict involves a person making immediate direct threats to your life or health, or to the life or health of a loved one. Nonviolence is still an option under these circumstances; a Gandhian practitioner of nonviolence might choose not to cause harm to another person who happens to be causing harm to them or someone else they care about. Sharpian nonviolence is more in line with my thinking; I do not think that nonviolence is the best option under these circumstances.

Nonviolence has its uses. Most of the time when we are in a conflict situation it makes perfect sense not to react violently. Most of the time the conflicts we face are not that serious. Typically, nonviolence is a perfect suitable option.

Weighing our Options

Violence and nonviolence are extremes. How good an option either one is depends on the person weighing them as an option and their circumstances. However, most of our conflicts are not extreme situations. We have a multitude of options to choose from that will fall somewhere between violence and nonviolence on our continuums of choice. The trick is to work on ourselves so that we don’t default to some bad option just because we are under stress.


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