Fitz-Gibbon, Andrew — Positive Peace: Reflections on Peace Education, Nonviolence, and Social Change.

Fitz-Gibbon, Andrew, ed. Positive Peace: Reflections on Peace Education, Nonviolence, and Social Change. Rodopi: Amsterdam. 2010. Print.

This collection of essays displays varied views on what peace means and how one may achieve it, with several different practical tactics and anecdotes throughout. In the Editorial Forward, William C. Gay sets up basic vocabulary for the text, noting, “negative peace is defined as the mere absence of war, while positive peace is defined as also entailing the presence of justice […] The ultimate goal is to achieve social justice” (xv). In this framework, a peaceful society, in addition to not being at war, is one in which society is balanced and without violence, including complex structural systems of violence.

I reference here specific essays instead of referring to the work as a whole.

Gandhi, Arun. “Guest Forward: Why is Peace Elusive?”

In his forward, Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, discusses his own views on nonviolence, which was introduced to him and heavily influenced by the teachings of his grandfather. Part of this teaching is realizing that how an individual reacts to a situation determines how she feels about those surroundings. He asserts: “Reaction to an incident in anger, when not in control of our mind, leads to violence, either physical or non-physical. Taking time to regain control of the mind helps in finding a nonviolent solution” (xix). Endless advice notes that we should count backwards from five, or up to ten, or take a few deep breaths before reacting in anger, but some angers are much more prolonged, and taking longer to regain control of oneself should be seen as a strength instead of a weakness of character. Gandhi continues with an introduction to the concept of nonviolence by discussing “the Culture of Nonviolence,” noting that nonviolence is based on the belief “that all human beings and, by extension, all nations are interlinked, interconnected, and interrelated […] Thus, in the practice of nonviolence it is imperative that we broaden our vision of society and nation, and learn to build mutually respecting societies with a greater degree of compassionate sharing” (xx). By acting out of compassion instead of pity, problems can be solved with the disenfranchised instead of for them, or in Gandhi’s words, with programs “designed to help the poor stand on their own feet and do things for themselves” (xxi). The violence of destroying a group’s voice and agency should be taken seriously, as many groups are either unable or discouraged to speak for themselves (the poor, disabled, elderly, children, and women) and thus, are often spoken for by people with good intentions but little inside knowledge. The example given was the Peace Corp, which Gandhi notes often took the “we know your problem and if you listen to us we will solve it for you” (xxi) approach to international aid work. In truly nonviolent spaces, the poor are not “kept in their place,” so to speak, with soup kitchens as the only means to provide for their needs; they are educated, given job training, and shown how to go about bettering their lives in ways that they have expressed would be helpful.

Robert L. Muhlnickel. “The Vulnerability Thesis and The Peacemaking Virtues”

While Muhlnickel’s explanation of when people do violence to each other is fascinating: “People resort to violence when they believe they have no alternatives to it, when they bear ill will or hatred toward another, and when they believe they will not be prevented from doing violence to the other. The preventative factors might be located in the object of violence, as when the other is not powerful enough to prevent the agent from doing violence. The preventative factor may be located in a third party, who lacks the power to deter the agent from doing violence” (19). In this scenario, individuals commit violence because the victim of their violence is unable to act back (either through physical means, which would be the case in harming the environment or a member of a silenced group, such as a discriminated against minority or child) or the third party that is supposed to keep the violence at bay does not have enough power (if your neighbor throws a rock through your window but the police force is grossly mismanaged or small, it may be unlikely that he will face legal repercussions for this action). That people may be violent to each other just because they can might be a shock, but consider the child mildly squashing ants with his finger. He does not believe that the ants feel pain, or thinks they are so small that they do not matter; as adults, we realize that hurting other people is morally wrong, but we still may hold prejudices that some people are worth more than others, leading to the destruction of environments who look different than us.

Sanjay Lal. “Gandhian Nonviolence as Not Presupposing Human Goodness”

Lal discusses Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence and human goodness in this essay, beginning with the statement: “A ubiquitous justification of violence, ingrained as a conventional common sense understanding across the globe, is that our opponents are so evil that only violence is effective in dealing with them” (23). This tactic has been used via propaganda and stereotypes for what looks like the entirety of human existence. In refining Gandhi’s premise, Lal distills his philosophies into understandable bits, such as, “Ultimately, [Gandhi] sees nonviolence as an attribute of ultimate reality (atman), which is everyone’s True Self, which is manifested in the attraction, cooperation, and order (aspects of the True Self) that underlie the everyday world” (25). While the author notes that it is hard to believe in the good of every human, he notes that it is a “capability for good, which the general population at large has exhibited throughout history, and not the inherent goodness of human nature” (27) that shows that Gandhi’s nonviolent methods would be able to work. He also notes that nonviolent ends can only come from nonviolent means, and “Gandhi had a strong commitment to use only moral means” (29). The argument that violence is a natural should be dismissed, as it does nothing to further humanity. “Considering the multitudes of the violent that have died for their cause and the penchant for violent responses to escalate violence,” Lal says, “history provides no reason for assuming that resorting to violence will assure survival, individually or collectively” (30). If individuals act selflessly and collectively, which at first seems counterintuitive to survival, the entirety of humanity can benefit.

Viewing this work as a whole proves nearly impossible, but pulling quotes and ideas from various essays in the book could illuminate areas of nonviolence that I had not previously considered. For instance, that violence could be done merely because one could do it, as suggested by Muhlnickel, brought up an interesting set of scenarios for me. For instance, in creative writing workshops, the group will often go either positive or negative depending on the strength of individuals in the group—once a negative trail begins, it is very hard to stop it. However, in creative writing workshops, the person whose work is being discussed is in the room but often uninvited to speak, as per the teacher’s instructions. Therefore, they are essentially powerless, having lost their ability to speak for themselves. This can lead to a frustrating experience, as you can hear how people are discussing pieces of your work but are utterly unable to defend yourself. What satisfaction comes not from constructive criticisms but from tearing down an individual’s story and art while they can hear you? I must assume that violence to others is, somehow, appealing to most of us, and microaggressions can take the place of what is considered “actual” “violence,” such as causing someone bodily harm. 

I appreciate the idea that humans are not necessarily inherently good, but that they have the capability for good, and that is enough. I believe that nonviolence and nonviolent teaching are seen as overwhelming or unrealistic because we all know that we will ultimately slip up. We will misgender a student or make an ignorant assumption about them; we will slip up and curse in a manner that is sexist or use a sexist/racist/ablist slur; we will err on the side of criticism instead of construction on a student’s paper, leading them to dislike or even resent us. We are only human, and whatever that means, it is at least an excuse to mess up often and significantly. However, by thinking of nonviolence and nonviolent action as a muscle to be worked instead of an insurmountable life-task, I believe that I (and maybe, others) would be able to approach each day nonviolently instead of thinking it is a lifelong struggle with ourselves.

—Emily Blair



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