Little Pacifism

I came across this quote by Gandhi:
If one does not practice nonviolence in one's personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.
I think one of the biggest failures of the pacifistic witness is when we don't practice nonviolence in our personal relations. Pacifism is too often projected onto the global scale. The conversation becomes almost exclusively about war between political powers. And no doubt that's an important conversation. But it can get a little abstract and philosophical. And some pacifists can be less than charitable toward others. Let's call this big conversation heroic pacifism.

Me? I don't think a lot about heroic pacifism. I probably should, but I spend most of my time thinking about violence in my personal relations, how I treat people--my family, people at work, people at church, people in the line at the store, commenters on this blog. My practice of nonviolence isn't heroic in scale. I practice a little pacifism, a small pacifism. I try not to be a jerk.

Not to say I don't keep my eye on heroic pacifism. I just don't like talking a lot about it. I'd rather be practicing than talking. Mainly because debating about war tends to make me violent.

So maybe Gandhi has it right. Start small. Practice nonviolence in your personal relations. Be tender, gentle, warm. welcoming, patient, and merciful with the people in your life. Practice little pacifism.

I bet it will scale up.

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17 thoughts on “Little Pacifism”

  1. This post (perhaps unsurprisingly) took me back to your earlier summary of the key points of the SoM, which I suppose couls be summarised even further with your "try not to be a jerk".

    As for "I bet it will scale up" - like a mustard seed it will...

  2. I think that's synonymous with love. Love gets aggrandized in terms of "the lost" or "those poor people out there." But abuse is mostly as local as a family member, the "least of these" in terms of respect, a child without influence or the power to object. Loved Tim Cotter's stand-up routine on AGT: "In my family I was always getting beat up by the two oldest -- Mom and Dad."

  3. "I try not to be a jerk."  Words to live by, for sure.

    "...[D]ebating about war tends to make me violent."  I know the feeling.  I quit talking politics -- period.

    My adult SS class is nearing the end of its discussion of Speaking Christian by Marcus Borg.  While we have lamented the many ways our common words of faith/theology have been hijacked and perverted, especially within the past 200 years, the question was posed, "Where do we go from here?"  (Or, how to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.)

    My big idea was this:  If I spend all my energy and time railing against injustice and those who perpetrate it, I know myself -- it is very hard to sustain the will to engage that kind of persistent meanness if I don't call up and live in a place of anger and indignation.  I can speak my mind and register my dissent at the injustices I witness.  But I can't make it my life's mission to avenge injustice -- whether its source be Church or Empire.  The girl who was on fire...  Who in the end, needed the peace of yellow dandelions.

    Adding to your mission statement, "I try not to be a jerk," my desire is for whatever fire is still burning in me to be a "friendly fire" -- to be warmth and light for other cold and lost souls.  If I have any energy or freedom to use that holy fire, to be a healing presence to those who are hurting.  If I have any voice to speak, to speak words of encouragement and hope.

    What we do is more important to a watching world than what we say, and especially that we do what we say we believe.  Helpmehelpmehelpmehelpme, Lord.  The real battle is an inside job.  Every day.

    Keep on, Dr. Beck.  Your words and your example give me courage to keep pressing on.  ~Peace~

  4. This has been such an important theme in our community.  As an Anabaptist by conviction, coming to the tradition later in life, I was excited to bring the peace church tradition and its wisdom into our inner city context, with its domestic violence, gang challenges, racial tensions, etc.  Yet, for the most part, the pacifism had little expression on the small, local scale (with some exceptions).  We need to explore this in more detail.

  5. Of course, non-pacifists are also out there, also trying not to be jerks, in their own ways. . . .

  6. This is a really good perspective- I think it's easy to talk about "being kind to others" in a really abstract, general way (and talk about "pacifism" on a large scale), but it's hard to actually respond with love towards someone who insults me or my roommate who doesn't keep the kitchen clean.

  7. Attempting to embody kindness, non resistance and a non-retaliatory posture is the way of Jesus. Yet a life informed by the love of Jesus on the cross....this foolish interacting with a world where success, power, having things saturate human's just so hard to be kind and forgiving and gentle and survive mentally, emotionally, physically. But there He is....With the joy that was set before him...."if anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." Paul's words haunt me and thrill me at the same time. "It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me!" Come Holy Spirit! Come Lord Jesus! Just help me not to be a jerk for starters! As always, thanks for the opportunity to read and respond.

  8. Reminds me of a recent happening.  My daughter (age 14) was upset last night when she heard an adult chide an 8 year old boy, "You let a girl take it from you?!"  This was in a competitive kids game situation.  My daughter could see the deflating affect on the boy and she took offense as a member of the female gender.   This would be an example of "little violence" but "little pacifism" can begin with sensitivity to these types of violence all around and working for transformation at this level.

  9. This reminds me of a Wendell Berry story someone shared with me about the pacifist who was so determined to make Christians love their enemies, he forgot to love them.  Being committed to non-violence, I think about this all the time ... struggle with it all the time ... it is so much easier to do the heroic things than the ordinary things.  Thanks!

  10.  We're all pacifists 90% of the time. My goal is just to get closer to 100%.

  11. Utha Phillips put it well talking about Ammon Hennacy

    And then he had to reach out and grapple with the violence, but he did
    that with all the people around him. These second World War vets, you
    know, on medical disabilities and all drunked up; the house was filled
    with violence, which Ammon, as a pacifist, dealt with - every moment,
    every day of his life. He said, "You got to be a pacifist." I said,
    "Why?" He said, "It'll save your life." And my behavior was very
    violent then.

    I said, "What is it?" And he said, "Well I can't give you a book by
    Gandhi - you wouldn't understand it. I can't give you a list of rules
    that if you sign it you're a pacifist." He said, "You look at it like
    booze. You know, alcoholism will kill somebody, until they finally get
    the courage to sit in a circle of people like that and put their hand up
    in the air and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an alcoholic.' And then
    you can begin to deal with the behavior, you see, and have the people
    define it for you whose lives you've destroyed."

    He said, "It's the same with violence. You know, an alcoholic, they can
    be dry for twenty years; they're never gonna sit in that circle and put
    their hand up and say, 'Well, I'm not alcoholic anymore' - no, they're
    still gonna put their hand up and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an
    alcoholic.' It's the same with violence. You gotta be able to put your
    hand in the air and acknowledge your capacity for violence, and then
    deal with the behavior, and have the people whose lives you messed with
    define that behavior for you, you see. And it's not gonna go away -
    you're gonna be dealing with it every moment in every situation for the
    rest of your life."

    I said, "Okay, I'll try that," and Ammon said "It's not enough!"

    I said: "Oh."

    He said, "You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial
    America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of
    weapons. The weapons of privilege, racial privilege, sexual privilege,
    economic privilege. You wanna be a pacifist, it's not just giving up
    guns and knives and clubs and fists and angry words, but giving up the
    weapons of privilege, and going into the world completely disarmed. Try

    That old man has been gone now twenty years, and I'm still at it. But I
    figure if there's a worthwhile struggle in my own life, that, that's
    probably the one. Think about it.

  12. well, if Clausewitz was right (and he probably was), then the rules (and escalations) of personal violence transfer to the societal scale anyways. So yes, practice a non-violent life!

  13. Hi Gabe, this is great. Do you know where it comes from, a book, article, blog post? I'd like to track the source down if I use this in the future.

  14. He told the story multiple times in different version but this one comes from an album called "The Past didn't go anywhere" he made with Ani Difranco.  That album also includes one of my favorite lines from a talk he gave to a group of kids (now also my ring tone) "You are about to be told one more time that you are America's most valuable natural resource.  Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources."

    You can find just the Anarchy track at

  15. Thank you for these words.  The temptation to be a pacifist superstar is grand, yet the reminder to start small orients us to the place where the biggest difference can be made.  In the various places and spaces that make up, with regularity, our 'every day' lives...  thanks again.

  16. As a Mennonite/Anabaptist from birth, I've been steeped in the "peace church" and have been taught "heroic pacifism" from my cradle.

    But in recent years, I've taken a proverbial step back and looked at the way my denomination reacts, in general, to anyone who does not agree with them. And, internally, there is a lot of conflict, passive-aggressive behaviors, schisms, and other similar dysfunctions...all in the name of peace as we try and get our point across. Even to the point, sometimes, as to condemn anyone who is in the military as "lesser Christians" or even question their faith entirely.

    We call the world to peace, but we don't seem to live at peace even among ourselves. Is it any wonder they don't listen?

    Thanks for the excellent reflection.

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