Nonviolent towards ourselves?

IssueJune - July 2016
News by Natalie Shanklin

Campaign Nonviolence is a US project focused on a ‘week of actions’ every September. In a larger sense, it is ‘a long-term movement for a culture of peace and nonviolence free from war, poverty, racism, environmental destruction and the epidemic of violence’.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Campaign Nonviolence is its emphasis on practising nonviolence towards ourselves as well as others.

John Dear, a renowned US Christian pacifist and key thinker behind Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence project, spoke on some of these ideas on 31 March at the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London. Dear’s talk was part of an event called ‘Blessed Are the Peacemakers’, hosted by British Christian peace organisations Ekklesia, Pax Christi and London Catholic Worker.

A space inside

In his presentation, Dear listed 10 points on how to be a peacemaker (see box). Through these principles, Dear asks the question, ‘How are you a peacemaker in your life?’ with his primary point being that peacemakers have to be meticulously nonviolent to everyone, even themselves, saying ‘We have to look deeply within and create a space of peace inside of us, for the God of peace to live’.

The person you can’t stand the most is your peace teacher

Dear, recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by archbishop Desmond Tutu, said that it is necessary to internally explore the violence inherently within us and why it exists. Practical methods that could be used to do this include Buddhist breathing techniques and meditation. The point is to look within ourselves and give all of our nonviolent thoughts and impulses to God, allowing him to disarm us from our violence, Dear said.

‘You really need to take quiet time every single day to sit in peace with the God of peace and to practice making peace to yourself,’ he said. ‘Using small moments in our day-to-day lives to be peaceful, whether it’s when you’re on the bus or the train, you can try to be peaceful. I try to live as if I’m with Jesus. It’s a journey of trying to be more nonviolent to yourself.’

This nonviolence has to extend to all others, even the people we dislike the most. In this way, nonviolence requires creativity. ‘The person you can’t stand the most is your peace teacher,’ Dear said.

Beyond this, all peacemakers have to actively work for peace by joining grassroots movements and furthering the activism for a peaceful world free of all forms of violence. It is essential that peacemakers avoid being passive and instead take public action.

‘You have to be contemplative and then go out into the culture of war and speak out publicly against war and for peace. It’s like sending you like “lambs into the midst of wolves”.... It’s a nonviolent campaign to your own Jerusalem.’

These principles are all tied to our ability to be peaceful to ourselves first. According to Dear’s work, we cannot co-operate with the violence inside of us. Instead, we have to be who we truly are, and remember our peaceful identities. ‘Peacemakers are the daughters and sons of the God of peace,’ Dear said.

John Dear's 'How to be a peacemaker':

  1. Peacemakers practice nonviolence.
  2. Peacemakers have to be contemplators.
  3. Peacemakers are students and teachers of nonviolence.
  4. Peacemakers are activists.
  5. Peacemakers are missionaries of peace.
  6. Peacemakers are prophets of peace.
  7. Peacemakers are visionaries.
  8. Peacemakers are people who carry the cross and get ready for resurrection.
  9. Peacemakers are people of hope.
  10. Blessed are the peacemakers.
Topics: Peacemaking