Here is a collection of quotes about nonviolence and nonviolent direct action. This collection comes from the Nonviolent Training Project Trainers’ Resource Manual (see pgs 53 – 64) written by Pt’chang.
Using Quotes for Training
A collection of quotes to be used as part of training on strategic nonviolence and nonviolent direct action. This list is an excerpt from the Nonviolent Training Project Trainers’ Resource Manual.
The collection of nonviolence quotes below can be used in a wide variety of ways by trainers. It is best if they are copied onto coloured paper or card and cut into individual quote cards.
Handed around in a group they can be used as an opening circle at the beginning or in a closing circle at the end of workshop. Particular quotes can be drawn out – read or passed around to stimulate discussion on a particular aspect of nonviolence. They can be spread out on the floor like the Nonviolence photos or passed around like cards. You can ask participants to read a quote and then ask for responses to that quote or use them in small groups or pairs.
The sixty quotes in this manual are chosen deliberately to represent a diversity of opinion in regard to nonviolence. Perspectives from women and men, from Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist perspectives are included as well as activists from the global south. It is sometimes good to demonstrate that more people than Gandhi and King have talked about nonviolence!
Not all of the quotes are favourable towards the idea of nonviolence. Some are deliberately provocative, again, in order to stimulate discussion in the training.
It is the acid test of nonviolence that in a nonviolent conflict there is no rancor left behind, and in the end the enemies are converted into friends.
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.
Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968)
The nonviolence I teach is active nonviolence of the strongest. But the weakest can partake in it without becoming weaker.
The point of nonviolence is to build a floor, a strong new floor, beneath which we can no longer sink. A platform which stands a few feet above napalm, torture, exploitation, poison gas, A and H bombs, the works. Give man a decent place to stand.
That’s all nonviolence is – organized love.
The greatest challenge of the day is: How to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.
Action is the antidote to despair.
Nonviolence is a flop. The only bigger flop is violence.
They have as it were two hands upon him – the one calming him, making him ask questions, as the other makes him move.
Barbara Deming, ‘On Revolution and Equilibrium”
It is one thing to be able to state the price the antagonist paid, another to be able to count you own real gains.
I think the only choice that will enable us to hold to our vision. . . is one that abandons the concept of naming enemies and adopts a concept familiar to the nonviolent tradition: naming behavior that is oppressive…
Gandhi once declared that it was his wife who unwittingly taught him the effectiveness of nonviolence. Who better than women should know that battles can be won without resort to physical strength? Who better than we should know all the power that resides in noncooperation?
Without a direct action expression of it, nonviolence, to my mind, is meaningless.
Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
Nonviolence is fine as long as it works.
Malcolm X 1925-1965
Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.
Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.
Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.
Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
The real test of nonviolence lies in its being brought in contact with those who have contempt for it.
Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
No man could be actively nonviolent and not rise against social injustice, no matter where it occurred.
Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
The first thing to be disturbed by our commitment to nonviolence will not be the system but our own lives.
Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon . . . which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.
Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968)
The key words of violent economics are urbanization, industrialization, centralization, efficiency, quantity, speed. . . . The problem of evolving a nonviolent way of economic life [in the West] and that of developing the underdeveloped countries may well turn out to be largely identical.
E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977)
Nonviolence is the constant awareness of the dignity and the humanity of oneself and others; it seeks truth and justice; it renounces violence both in method and in attitude; it is a courageous acceptance of active love and goodwill as the instrument with which to overcome evil and transform both oneself and to others. It is the willingness to undergo suffering rather than inflict it. It excludes retaliation and flight.
Wally Nelson conscientious objector, civil rights activist, and tax resister.
Nonviolent action is a means of combat, as is war. It involves the matching of forces and the waging of ‘battle,’ requires wise strategy and tactics and demands of its ‘soldiers’ courage, discipline and sacrifice. This view of nonviolent action as a technique of active combat is diametrically opposed to the popular assumption that, at its strongest, nonviolent action relies on rational persuasion of the opponent, and more commonly it consists simply of passive submission.
The criminal ‘justice’ system functions to alienate and isolate the accused individual, to destroy one’s power and purposefulness and to weave a web of confusion and mystification around any legal proceedings.
The Blockade the Bombmakers Handbook, 1982
The power of nonviolence is not circumstance-specific. It is as applicable to the problems that confront us now, as to problems that confronted generations in the past. It is not a medicine or a solution so much as a healing process. It is the active spiritual immune system of humanity.
The major advances in nonviolence have not come from people who have approached nonviolence as an end in itself, but from persons who were passionately striving to free themselves from social injustice.
Every relationship of domination, of exploitation, of oppression is by definition violent, whether or not the violence is expressed by drastic means. In such a relationship, dominator and dominated alike are reduced to things- the former dehumanized by an excess of power, the latter by a lack of it. And things cannot love.
No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.
If you are going to hold someone down you’re going to have to hold onto the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.
Nonviolence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak…Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.
Violence just hurts those who are already hurt… Instead of exposing the brutality of the oppressor, it justifies it.
Nonviolence is a very powerful weapon. Most people don’t understand the power of nonviolence and tend to be amazed by the whole idea. Those who have been involved in bringing about change and see the difference between violence and nonviolence are firmly committed to a lifetime of nonviolence, not because it is easy or because it is cowardly, but because it is an effective and very powerful way.
In some cases nonviolence requires more militancy than violence.
Violence produces only something resembling justice, but it distances people from the possibility of living justly, without violence.
The Art of Peace functions everywhere on earth, in realms ranging from the vastness of space down to the tiniest plants and animals. The life force is all-pervasive and its strength boundless. The Art of Peace allows us to perceive and tap into that tremendous reserve of universal energy.
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido
You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.
Whatever peace I know rests in the natural world, in feeling myself a part of it, even in a small way.
Martin Luther King taught us all nonviolence. I was told to extend nonviolence to the mother and her calf.
One is dearest to God who has no enemies among the living beings, who is nonviolent to all creatures.
Education is a vaccine for violence.
Edward James Olmos
Gandhi would always offer full details of his plans and movements to the police, thereby saving them a great deal of trouble. One police inspector who availed himself of Gandhi’s courtesy in this matter is said to have been severely reprimanded by his chief. ‘Don’t you know,’ he told the inspector, ‘that everyone who comes into close contact with that man goes over to his side?'”
Reginald Reynolds, in A Quest for Gandhi, Doubleday, 1952
You think that good is hating what is bad. What is bad is the hating mind itself.
Bon Kai (Buddhist monk)
Should anyone confront you with violence, you should try and repel it with peacefulness, whereby he who is your enemy will become your friend.
Holy Qur’an (41:34)
Repel evil with that which is best
Holy Qur’an (23:97)
The person who turns an enemy into a friend has accomplished the work of God
Abot d’Rabbi Nathan 23
People try nonviolence for a week, and when it ‘doesn’t work,’ they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.
The defenders of the status quo often masquerade as the preservers of harmony.
We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose. We cannot afford to use methods of which we will be ashamed when we look back, when we say, ‘…we shouldn’t have done that.’ We must remember, my friends, that we have been given a wonderful cause. The cause of freedom! And you and I must be those who will walk with heads held high. We will say, ‘We used methods that can stand the harsh scrutiny of history.’
Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.
Jesus of Nazareth
If everybody demanded peace instead of another TV set, then there’d be peace.
The people in power will not disappear voluntarily, giving flowers to the cops just isn’t going to work. This thinking is fostered by the establishment; they like nothing better than love and nonviolence. The only way I like to see cops given flowers is in a flower pot from a high window.
Burroughs, William S. 1914-1997 American Writer
Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.
Peace comes from being able to contribute the best that we have, and all that we are, toward creating a world that supports everyone. But it is also securing the space for others to contribute the best that they have and all that they are.
Why is it so easy for us to be willing to pick up arms and risk our lives, and so difficult to put down those same weapons and still risk our lives – in the cause of life?
Ramzi Kysia, a young Muslim-American peace activist
The job of the peacemaker is to stop war, to purify the world, to get it saved from poverty and riches, to heal the sick, to comfort the sad, to wake up those who have not yet found God, to create joy and beauty wherever you go, to find God in everything and everyone.
One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better.
There have been periods of history in which episodes of terrible violence occurred but for which the word violence was never used…Violence is shrouded in justifying myths that lend it moral legitimacy, and these myths for the most part kept people from recognizing the violence for what it was. The people who burned witches at the stake never for one moment thought of their act as violence; rather they though of it as an act of divinely mandated righteousness. The same can be said of most of the violence we humans have ever committed.
The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
There are many benefits to meeting violence with nonviolence, especially when the instrument of power facing you is the strongest army in the region, and is largely unaccountable. To meet violence with violence is to play to your opponent’s strong point and your own weak point.”
Hanan Ashrawi 2004
Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is–whether its victim is human or animal–we cannot expect things to be much better in this world … We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity.
Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them more.
In 1989, thirteen nations comprising 1,695,000 people experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations . . . If we add all the countries touched by major non- violent actions in our century (the Philippines, South Africa . . . the independence movement in India .. . the figure reaches 3,337,400,000, a staggering 65% of humanity! All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated, that nonviolence doesn’t work in the ‘real’ world.
I will not carry a gun…. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even hari-kari if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!
Hawkeye, M*A*S*H, ‘Officer of the Day’
[Anti-war] Coalitions tend to endorse nonviolence in their tactics of protest, though not necessarily as a philosophical tenet of their mission statement. Given the philosophical ambiguity of ‘violence” and ‘nonviolence,” serious political disagreements about the meaning of ‘direct action” and ‘civil disobedience,” and their relation to nonviolence, movement organizers often stretch for the lowest denominator in order to hold a coalition together, creating an obvious, basic tension in the organizing of protests.
In Palestine, our historical experience as a people under occupation has been that the more we use nonviolent resistance, the more we concentrate on affirming our own rights, building institutions, and rejecting the imposed reality of the occupation, the more we have been able to expose the bankruptcy of the occupation itself, and the more support we gain.
Hanan Ashrawi 2004
We have to show what we really are — a largely unarmed people under occupation. The most effective and most appropriate way to achieve this would be to demonstrate our human spirit, our refusal to succumb, to be broken, and adopt the principle of collective nonviolent resistance.
Hanan Ashrawi 2004
We kill at every step, not only in wars, riots, and executions. We kill when we close our eyes to poverty, suffering, and shame. In the same way all disrespect for life, all hard-heartedness, all indifference, all contempt is nothing else than killing. With just a little witty skepticism we can kill a good deal of the future in a young person. Life is waiting everywhere, the future is flowering everywhere, but we only see a small part of it and step on much of it with our feet.
Hermann Hesse, German poet and novelist.
Intentions, of course, are always good. The worse the fight, the higher its justification. ‘Justified” violence is the worst. Unjustified violence bursts out of a bad character or bad feelings, but it doesn’t go very far. But when people feel justified in the use of violence, it becomes systematic and leads to all the horrors of history.
Lanza del Vasto (1901-1981), poet, Christian mystic, and nonviolent activist.
O, that we who declare war against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the light, and therein examine our foundation and motives in holding onto money! May we look upon our estates, our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these, our possessions.
John Woolman, Journal (1774)
Environment policy is the peace policy of the future. It is crucial that we create a culture of cooperation and mutual respect between north and south, rich and poor if we want to avoid ever growing tensions in a world where water and other vital resources can no longer be taken for granted.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive-Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. … The strongest passions, and the most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.
Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
Hermann Goering, April 18, 1946
Lest my way of life sounds puritanical or austere, I always emphasize that in the long run one can’t satisfactorily say no to war, violence, and injustice unless one is simultaneously saying yes to life, love and laughter.
David Dellinger, peace activist and author.
These quotes were sourced by Anthony Kelly, Pt’chang Nonviolent Community Safety Group. Adapted from a process used by Peter Le Blanc in Peace Brigades International trainings.
Images on this website have been added by the Commons library.
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