Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Peace and Non Violence: Relevance in the 21 Century?

An Indian king interested in knowing what exactly PEACE is invited intellectuals and scholars to answer his question.  After much deliberation and no answer, someone suggested that the king should consult a sage outside the borders of his kingdom.  The king went to the sage and posed the eternal question.  The sage  listened the king and without a word went into the kitchen, brought a grain of wheat to the king, and said, “in this you will find the answer to your question.”  The king, though puzzled, grabbed the grain, returned to his palace, locked the precious grain in a tiny gold box, and placed the box in his safe.

Each morning, the king would open the box and look at the grain to seek an answer but could find nothing.  After a long time, another sage, passing through, stopped to meet the king who eagerly invited him to resolve his dilemma.  The sage replied to the king that just as this grain represents nourishment for the body, peace represents nourishment for the soul.  If you keep this grain locked up in a gold box it will eventually perish without providing nourishment or multiplying.  However, if it is allowed to interact with the elements – light, water, air, soil – it will flourish, multiply and soon you would have a whole field of wheat which will nourish not only you but so many others.  This is the meaning of peace.  It must nourish your soul and the souls of others, it must multiply by interacting with the elements.

Peace and nonviolence starts from a person’s inner commitment and conviction, a core belief in the idea and willingness to share it with others.  It is not only a tool or technique, but also a way of life, as Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand said during his lectures on nonviolence.

Nonviolence does not guarantee immediate and unfailing success, no method of peaceful resolution of conflict does.  The proponents of nonviolence advocate that the concept works because it deals with the causes, rather than the symptoms, of conflicts.  Cooperation and consent are the root of political power and in contemporary world politics where interdependence works, concepts of nonviolence can help as a tool for peaceful resolution of conflicts.

A father of nonviolence, M.K. Gandhi’s struggle was based on a number of  strategies that worked well under the circumstances.  According to Paul Wehr, Gandhi was able to keep the Indian independence movement from lurching out of control (and possibly becoming violent) through a number of strategies:

•    A “step-wise” process.  Gandhian campaigns began with negotiation and arbitration, during which he worked not only on the issues in dispute, but also on developing a cooperative relationship with the British officials involved.  If the conflict was not resolved at this stage, the satyagrahis prepared for nonviolent action including “agitation, ultimatum, economic boycott and strikes, noncooperation, civil disobedience, usurpation of governmental functions and the creation of parallel government.”

•     Commitment to nonviolence.  Each participant in a Gandhian campaign had to make a personal and absolute commitment to nonviolence.  According to Wehr, it was primarily because of this personalized self-control that such a massive movement developed with surprisingly little violence.

•    Controlling the dynamics of escalation.  Gandhi avoided common precipitators of escalation.  For example, he tied each campaign to a single issue and thus avoided proliferation of issues or parties.  He put an emphasis on developing personal relationships with opponents, and thus refrained from the tendency to move from confrontation to antagonism.  By announcing all intended moves, he minimized the possibility of information becoming distorted.

Gandhi’s nonviolent strategies explain that both practicality and political relevance are vital in any nonviolent struggle.  Nonviolence is in fact based on pragmatic steps towards ideal goals, in other words it is a combination of principle and pragmatism.  Nonviolence does not mean giving in to injustice or submitting to violence, it is to working with resolve in the face of oppression with a realistic view of the goodwill of the opponent.  Nonviolence involves no intention to dominate the opponent but points towards establishing a balanced relationship that fosters dialogue and resolution of the conflict in the interest of the common good.  Hence common good is the guiding principle, a win-win solution where no one feels betrayed, defeated, or overpowered but instead feels accommodated, accepted, and appreciated.

Arshi Saleem Hashmi, Pakistan
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2014 Session


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