Friday, March 23, 2007

Active Nonviolence, Hildegaard Goss-Mayr

Bio: An Austrian by birth, Hildegaard Goss-Mayr and her husband, Jean Goss, have worked extensively in South and Latin America, as well as in Europe, as field secretaries for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. She writes out of deep experience and commitment to the principles of non-violence. The following selection is a talk given at CIDOC in August 1970.


"First of all I should like to present myself and my husband. We work together, and there­fore if I speak of “us,” it is always the two of us.Jean and I have been secretaries of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, which is an ecumenical peace movement, for a number of years. Our work, in particular during the time of the cold war, has been in East-West relations in Europe. We tried to estab­lish a dialogue between Christians and non-Christians at the time when it was still very difficult to get through the “Iron Curtain.” Later on we built up a kind of peace lobby at the Vatican Council and we tried to push the bishops and theologians of the Catholic Church—we are Catholic ourselves—to develop a dynamic theol­ogy of peace. "

"Now I should like to ask you not to take the expression non violence in a negative sense. It is a very negative expression for something which is highly active, aggressive and strong; which is a force. We regret that we have not found a better word to express this type of action. I hope we will not limit ourselves to discuss this term but try to get the sense, the real meaning for which it stands.
There are in man three possibilities to react against injustice:

1. Once you have become aware of an injustice you can remain passive. This is the first and I think the most common attitude. Probably each one of us has had this experience in his own life. We have accepted passively many injustices, many things that we considered wrong. This is the most negative attitude that man can take.

2. The second is the traditional way of reacting against injustice, the way that has been taken in history in general, that is, to react against injustice, aggression and other forms of evil with the same means. We could say to oppose the institutional forms of violence with counter-violence in the effort to overcome existing injustices. This means to resort to the same means with which the established forces are operating. By doing this, we remain, however, within the system, that is to say, we accept to remain within the vicious circle of violence and counter-violence which necessarily creates new forms of violence, even if we succeed to overcome certain injustices through the application of violence. It must be made very clear that the means are linked to the aim. That is to say, the use of violence in the effort to overcome injustice necessarily creates new forms of suppression and exploitation. Acting in this way one remains within the vicious circle of arms’ trade, money speculation, verbal promises etc., and the mass of the people continue to suffer exploitation and injustice. There has been, perhaps more in our time than before, more serious research concerning a new way of fighting against injustice by using means that do not include hatred, violence, etc.

3. Perhaps this third way of reacting against an injustice could be explained through a very simple example. I have two children. If, for instance, my boy, who is ten and by nature violent, has done something wrong and if I use the same aggressive means as he does, we shall just hurt each other. He does not improve and I must tell myself; “Well, you have not done anything to overcome the evil. On the contrary. if one really wanted to solve the problem a teacher or parent would explain to the young person why his way of acting is wrong and help him to direct his forces toward positive tasks. That is to say, you dialogue, you begin to use certain methods and techniques in order to solve the conflict. In this process neither of us is diminished; on the contrary, he advances and I begin to understand him better and to learn about what he has to contribute. This force is the force of intelligence but also the force of truth, of love and justice that has been brought into play in this effort of solving a problem. This is the type of strength which is at the core of non-violent action.

There are always two aspects in this form of action which are in separable. If they are separated, we can no longer speak of an authentic non-violent action. These two aspects are: (1) a specific view of man, a certain attitude toward men and society, and (2) certain techniques and methods that correspond to this attitude and that incarnate this force in a given conflict. This technique and this view go together and cannot be separated."

"Those who work with this power of non-violence believe that every man has a conscience. This conscience may be uneducated, underdeveloped; it may, by tradition, be deformed; but it is there and if work is done, this conscience can be awakened, it can be challenged, it can be reached. I think this is truly an aspect of hope; if we cannot believe anymore that man is man, in this sense, in the final analysis, there is then no other way than to use the old traditional forms of violence in trying to solve our problems. This implies that man must never be identified with evil. As long as we identify him with evil we sacrifice him to an ideology. On the contrary the task of the non-violent action is to fight the injustice and to liberate men, those who suffer the injustice as well as those who are responsible for it. This therefore is a very constructive, positive and active form of living.

There are different ways of reaching this view. It may be through a humanistic attitude, it may be through religion, Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity. Personally I believe that the essential point of the Christian faith is precisely this aspect. In this lies the revolutionary aspect of our faith. We are challenged, we are asked to reply in a radically new way to evil. It is our specific task to introduce this new way of fighting injustice into the historical situation that we are experiencing. For Christ has shown us a new view of man. Going beyond the Old Testament attitude of considering as one’s “neighbors” only those of one’s own clan, that is to say, the Jewish people, he teaches that every human being without exception, even the enemy, is in a very realistic sense our neighbor. This implies that we react to those who stand against us in a radically new way, a way that refuses all means that diminish, violate or destroy them, but which, on the contrary, tries to overcome the evil that separates us. Christ has not only taught this, he has lived it and furthermore has shown some techniques of how to live that force in a specific historical situation. He attacked the status quo of his time, those who betrayed men and were the privileged. He attacked the established Church of his time. He attacked the conscience of its representatives throughout the three years of his public life so strongly that they reacted in the traditional way with violence against him and crucified him. He was not crucified because he did nothing, but exactly because he attacked the injustice of his time in a very clear and precise way and because he spoke the truth. But he always respected men. Neither did he join the established groups of his time nor the guerrilla who operated in Israel, and who wanted to liberate the country from the Roman occupation. He showed a new way of fighting evil and he was willing to accept the consequences of his action.This is something we must bear in mind: The moment we attack an injustice, we must be prepared and willing to accept the sacrifices and the suffering that necessarily will result from our attack. For those whose conscience is attacked will as a first reaction use violence against us. This may be the cross for some of those engaged in a non-violent action."

"I think it has already become clear that this kind of action has nothing to do with a sentimental form of love or of being nice. It is a strategy, it is a way to act, it is a struggle that has to be carried on to the last consequences. If it remains only a single, sporadic action it will not succeed. This implies that non-violent workers have to undergo training—just as a soldier is trained for violent combat."

"I should like to add that it is significant that these methods, so far, have mainly been used by the poor; I think non-violence is essentially an arm of the poor, a force of liberation for them. Not only do they have no access to the arms of the rich, they often passively accept injustice because they are unaware of the power of resistance that lies within them because they are human beings. It is an essential task to make them aware of this force and train them to apply it. Most of the non-violent actions that have been realized in Latin America so far have been carried out by the very poor people, by industrial workers and campcsinos, on the plantations or in the barrios of the cities."

"A Few Basic Principles of Non-Violent Strategy

1. Analysis. One has to be aware of the injustice in order to be able to fight it. You have to analyze very well the situation, not only its local aspect but the whole context in which it occurs; for instance, if you work for economic and social justice in Latin America, you must make the complete analysis and see how it is linked to the economic and military policy of the rich countries.
2. Form action groups and train leadership. If there is no local leadership, an action will not succeed; I think so far this has been one of the weak points in non-violent action.
3. Then select a limited and well-defined first project. It must be at the level where the people with whom you work can understand it and where they are capable to solve it with their small forces. It is very important, in particular if you work with poor people for whom it may be the first time that they act, that this action makes them aware of their own strength. I remember working in MedellIn, Colombia, with a group in a barrio. There were about 5,000 people who had occupied land on a steep hill above the city. They had neither water nor electricity, canalization or schools. Many were unemployed. A priest who came to live with them developed leader ship and tried to stimulate initiatives among the people to change their dismal conditions. With his help a seminar on non-violent action was organized in which did participate not only representatives of the barrio but also students, teachers, social workers, intellectuals, priests, etc. It was for them, who knew poverty only from statistics, a challenging experience to live in the mud of the barrio. It helped to bridge the gap between the poor and the educated and to make them understand the necessity of working together for justice for all. The objective was, after having trans mitted the basic facts about non-violence and its methods of action, and after having analyzed their situation, to make the poor people themselves decide upon their first project and to outline their plan of action. They decided that their most urgent problem was water:they learned how to negotiate, how to bring their problem before the mind of the responsible people who live far from the reality of the poor—how to build up their forces with the help of conscious and educated people and to win the support of a growirig section of the population. They learned to use their imagination and to try out their human, moral and political power in this first project. They did win and helped themselves to build their water pipes. From there they went on to electricity, schooling, labor, etc. They had experienced the power of man to work for change.
4. Expansion to the international level. Then, once you act against one injustice, you see how it is linked to others, nationally and internationally. Therefore in the future the strategy must be to join actions in Africa, Asia or Latin America where people are working, for instance for land reform or where they are suffering particularly from the exploitation by certain international companies or from certain economic policies of the industrialized countries, with efforts in Europe and in the United States which are directed at changing these injustices. This means to put pressure on our political, economic and cultural groups, and upon our Churches in order to finally transform this system of exploitation. We are facing a task that concerns humanity as such. It is impossible for the developing countries to bring about the necessary changes unless in the rich countries as well the change of our economic, political and military system is obtained."

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