October 2 was the International Day of Non-Violence. The concept of non-violence asks us to go beyond the common beliefs used to justify exerting force onto others, and to reflect on the negative effects of such actions.
The concept of non-violence was first developed in an effort to prevent armed conflicts, but it can also be applied to interpersonal relationships. The beliefs in which violence is rooted are similar, whether they relate to a country, a group, or individuals; the two main components are the idea of defending yourself when attacked (“beat or get beaten”) and the idea of a duty to use force to “maintain order.”
“To beat or get beaten” refers to self-defence – the use of force to avoid being hurt from an attack. This concept is problematic in that it can be invoked by individuals or groups who feel they are attacked, regardless of the actual threat, and who then use violence to “protect” themselves from hypothetical attacks. Many factors can induce an erroneous sense of threat, such as past experiences of trauma, projection onto others of one’s own buried feelings, or tendency to see others as inherently mean.
The idea of using force to “maintain order” also comes from a widely accepted principle of protecting public interest. This responsibility is the prerogative of the State. However, some individuals or groups, who feel that they are (or should be) in a position of authority over other individuals or groups, also invoke this principle. Their authority, either real or self-proclaimed, become both judge and jury; the repression they exert may cease to be in the actual public interest.
Non-violence asks us to reflect on the fact that the harm caused to others can become a justification for them to cause harm in return, especially if they do not perceive the attack as reaction to an actual threat, or if they do not recognize the authority of those harming them.
Non-violence reminds us that when we hurt others, we also hurt ourselves, because violence negates the sensitivity and vulnerability of all humanity which we are all a part of. As Etty Hillesum once wrote: “Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others. And remember that every atom of hate that we add to this world makes it sill more inhospitable.”
Mario Trépanier and Laurent Magnier, Via l’Anse