Class of Nonviolence: Introduction

Welcome to class. Your class. Your time. Your future. The literature on nonviolence is rich with powerful prose and trenchant thinking. If peace is what every government of earth says it seeks and if peace is the yearning of every heart, then why aren’t we studying it and learning it in schools? All of us are called to be peacemakers. Yet in most schools, the history, methods and successes of creating peace through nonviolence have no place in the curriculum.

The course you are about to take is designed to make modest amends for your peace miseducation. The eight lesson course could really be an eighty lesson course – the literature is there – but since we are all rushing about making sense or making progress, so we think, start with what’s here. Studying peace through nonviolence is as much about getting the bombs out of our world as it is about getting them out of our heart. Many people are avid about creating peace across the ocean but meanwhile there’s a war going on across the living room. Every problem we have, every conflict, whether among our family or friends, or internationally among governments, will be addressed through violent force or nonviolent force. No third way exists.

In teaching courses on nonviolence to some 5,000 high school, college and law students since 1982, I have gone into this class the first day knowing I would have a better chance of being understood were I to talk about astro-neo-bio-linear physics and speak Swahili. They would get it sooner than they would nonviolence. Courses on nonviolence should begin in kindergarten and the first grade, and on up, which is how we do with math, science and language. Why not with peacemaking?

Your opportunity with this course is to get involved with remedial learning. In any subject, there are the four As’: Awareness, Acceptance, Absorption and Action. This course is meant to place you, at least, in the Awareness stage. If you move on and Accept the truths you have studied, and Absorb them into your heart and soul, then you are ready for Action. Through reflection, possibly prayer, and an openness to risk-taking, it should become clear what kind of Action you are meant for.

Students are hungry to learn nonviolence. They understand it is much more than a noble ideal, it is also a basic survival skill. Learning nonviolence means that we dedicate our hearts, minds, time and money to a commitment that the force of love, the force of truth, the force of justice and the force of organized resistance to corrupt power is always more effective, moral and enduring than the force of fists, guns, armies and bombs.

Yet we still resist. Theodore Roszak explains: “The usual pattern seems to be that people give nonviolence two weeks to solve their problem and then decide it has failed. Then they go on with violence for the next hundred years and it seems never to fail or be rejected.”

As a student, you have a right to courses in peace. Let’s not only give peace a chance, let’s give it a place in the curriculum. Study hard. Think clearly. Listen well to others. Write forcefully. Be of one peace.

And remember this thought of Martin Luther King: “The choice is not between violence and nonviolence, but between nonviolence and nonexistence.”

Colman McCarthy


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