It is common for people to believe that nonviolence means direct action, because the two are closely related and direct action gets public attention. This can unfortunately mean people don’t feel they can engage in nonviolence because they think that means subjecting themselves to dangerous, confrontational situations and the possibility of being arrested.
A commitment to nonviolence has to begin with the individual for many reasons. Nonviolence has to become the way you experience every moment of your life, before you can effectively engage in the outward parts of nonviolence, which may eventually lead to participating in direct action, or may never.
We each have to discover the many, often insidious threads of violence that are part of of our own lives. Our relationships with others, our treatment of our environment, plants and animals, our social and political lives can all have violent aspects that we may be unaware of until we begin to pay close attention to them. As can seen from this list, violence means much more than physical force. A useful term is power in its many forms, which can be used to influence other people and entities in ways that are unwelcome or detrimental.
As we learn more about ourselves, we learn there are always new things to be aware of, which makes us more open to consider new ideas and able to change ourselves. This makes us more tolerant of others, knowing they can engage in these same processes, and we can help others do so, when conditions are appropriate.
This is a core concept of nonviolence, that success is measured by how much progress is made toward justice together, which often involves changing not only those who have been engaging in injustice, but also changing ourselves. It is often the awareness by others that we are willing to change that makes it possible for them to consider changing too. Deeply listening to each other is key.
The new book, The Gandhian Iceberg, by Chris Moore-Backman is a very helpful manual on nonviolence. Iceberg is used as an image to illustrate the three basic parts of nonviolence. The bulk of an iceberg is underwater. In nonviolence, this is the part discussed above, sometimes referred to as “self-purification”. The part of the iceberg above water represents the work that is done in the world to bring about peace and justice, which Chris refers to as the constructive program. Finally, the very smallest projection of the tip of the iceberg represents nonviolent direct action against specific social evils.