Musing: What does nonviolence actually mean?

For the first thirty years of my life, I thought that nonviolence meant not hitting someone. I was pretty happy about never hitting anyone. I took pride in being a big guy and never using my physical power to hit someone.

Then I started studying nonviolence. At first, I thought that words could be violent. I tried to not use some words because I thought they would be violent.

Now, after six years of studying nonviolence, I’ve come to realize that nonviolence for me is foremost a state of being. In the book I co-wrote, illustrator Noushin made this image to illustrate this state of being:

Not making yourself lesser than or more than another human being, but to feel your own dignity and the dignity of the other person. In Dutch, there is a great word for this attitude: gelijkwaardig.

When we make ourselves lesser than or more than, we have an image of ourselves or the other person in our mind.

For instance; a colleague that is not replying to an email as soon as you’d like. The image you could have is that he’s out to get you and you paint the picture of a villain or a devil in your head.


Or in a love relationship, you actually think the other person is amazing, like an angel. You do anything to please your partner and want to be like them.


Or when you’re at the cash register and you’re not making real contact with the person behind the counter. You see them as a box. Something you can use to get what you want.


Instead of interacting with a real human being, we’re interacting with the image we have in our head of this other person. That, to me, is violence. Inner violence perhaps, but it usually results in outer violence.

For instance, in a love relationship, I have a tendency to idealize my partner and forget my own needs. After a while, I get angry at my partner for not taking me into account and I get us into a fight.

Or when I plan things for a project with other people, I oftentimes see the other person as a box that I can move around and make them do things for me. I forget that they are someone with free will, a family, and feelings. People stop liking to work with me and relationships break.

And when I don’t have enough money to get the things I want, I see others and the world as a devil, and myself as a victim. I stop using my talents, stop initiating things and I break down.

As you can see, the state I’m in when I have these images in my mind are not fun states to be in. I’m suffering. And I stimulate suffering in others.

So that’s why I love to pause during the day when I notice these images. And transform them into something that is more fun and connecting. More free.

So nonviolence to me – right now – means: not to treat yourself or others as a devil, an angel, or a box.

I see this as a practice, and with practice, I can become better at it. With “it” I mean: being free of images that lead to suffering. Or as Gandhi put it:

We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.

I would like to add these words: with compassion for self and others.

Yeah, that’s the nonviolence I practice.

Do you want to practice with me? Give me a call to book an hour or a class – for free.