Nonviolence: a way of life


Is Nonviolence a Skill?

Nonviolence is a way of being in the world.

But yes, there are numerous nonviolence skills that usually don’t come naturally to most people – they require training and practice.

Nonviolence is a holistic paradigm that encompasses all aspects of our lives once we embrace its life-affirming orientation.

The late John Lewis was the best modern-day role model of Nonviolence Discipline.

In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way.”
John Lewis, Civil Rights Leader and Congressman



A Nonviolent Life may include:

  • Respect for others and for the earth

  • Understanding and using nonviolent communication

  • Learning the techniques of nonviolent resistance

  • Practical application of de-escalation and peacekeeping

  • Learning and applying basic conflict resolution skills

facilitated group
doctors around a conference table

General Introduction

Nonviolence is an umbrella term that can be defined in many ways.


This video offers an overall introduction to the concept and practices of nonviolence. 


The Integrity of Nonviolence

What Nonviolence Requires of Us

This video segment from the documentary “King in Chicago,” features activists who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement.

These activists explain the attitude and approach of nonviolence including:

  • The decision to not argue but to try to understand those with whom you disagree

  • Maintaining conscious awareness and doing no harm to ourselves or others

  • The struggle and discipline required to stay nonviolent

  • Reflecting on how we solve social problems without compromising ourselves, violating others or property

  • An approach in which we understand that we contribute to the problem. We trace back to ourselves the aspect related to us, then take our investment out of the problem, forgive others, and don’t judge others for their investment in the problem. Then when we get back to the cause and formulate a plausible solution through dialogue. Using that process, we don’t think of injuring anyone. We don’t see enemies – we only see problems.


Nonviolence Discipline 

This story from The Jackson Sun gives a detailed account of the 1960 Lunch Counter Sit-ins. The sit-in protestors practiced nonviolence, and even when violence was perpetrated against them, they remained peaceful. It was difficult, painful both physically and emotionally, and required great courage and commitment. 

Ruby L. Brown of Memphis, a student from Lane College described her experience when she spoke to the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference:

“At Woolworth’s and McLellan’s, we went in to sit-down only to have a mob form. We sat there while they kicked us for 2 1/2 hours. It was then they decided to throw us out.


“We decided to go back and be arrested or served. This time they poured hot coffee down our backs, put out cigarettes on our backs. They threw the boys out one at a time. They took the two girls and threw them bodily from one group to the other before throwing them out. The policemen were watching and did not act.”


Trained in non-violence

Lane College leaders trained Mercer and others how to respond nonviolently when they were confronted and attacked at the lunch counters.


Former Sun reporter John Parish, who is white, covered the Jackson sit-ins and marveled at the self-restraint displayed by the demonstrators.


“Those students from Lane who were doing the sit-ins, they were the most disciplined young people I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Parish, now retired and living in Franklin in Middle Tennessee. “They would sit there and ignore the taunts.”


The students had been trained to expect violence and to react peacefully. Each had agreed to a set of nonviolent principles based on the actions of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Parish also acknowledged that the scene sometimes became ugly.


“I can remember two or three occasions where it got out of hand, where hecklers came in there and would pick up tulip bulbs from a nearby counter and toss them at them.


“I remember one time when somebody broke an egg over one guy’s head and he just let it stream down his face and didn’t say a thing or resist or anything.”


Nonviolence Discipline is Necessary for Nonviolent Direct Action 

Nonviolent Direct Action

It’s helpful to be trained in the relational skills to be effective in Nonviolent Direct Action campaigns. Assertiveness skills are especially necessary for the nonviolent discipline required for direct action.

Activists need good boundaries. Emotional self-management is part of nonviolent discipline (knowing our triggers, handling our anger and not behaving with aggression). Conflict Resolution skills also play a role.

person wearing a Peacekeeper vest

Creativity & Nonviolence Discipline in Action


Dr. Martin Luther King: Nonviolence is the Most Powerful Weapon

Nonviolent Resistance is not passive.

Nonviolent Action Training 


Nonviolence Skills can be used in all areas of life.

Many of the relational skills will help you to be assertive but not aggressive, have solid boundaries, and have the ability to keep your cool in heated situations. 

Leadership and group process skills are also assets for those participating in nonviolent protests and direct action.

Below are free downloadable Nonviolent Action Training Material developed by Christine Green.

group in a circle
nonviolence and de-escalation handbook cover
Participants Guide Peaceful Protest covers
Protest Peacekeepers Manual

Techniques & Tactics for Resistance to Rising Authoritarianism

man standing facilitating a small meeting

Effective Nonviolence 

The skills needed are: 

  • To be more self-aware

  • To be assertive (but not aggressive)

  • Strong personal boundaries

  • When and how to set appropriate limits

  • To identify and understand your triggers

  • The ability to manage yourself emotionally

“If soldiers train for armed combat, why wouldn’t activists train for toppling the political-economic structure that’s killing our chance for a just future? The stakes are just as high.” – George Lakey


The Nonviolent Communication Model

Nonviolent Communication is a model of expression developed by Marshal Rosenberg and first introduced with the publication of his book. He called NVC “A Language of Life.”


The model uses and aligns with many of the relational skills.


Learn all about it on our Nonviolent Communication page.

Nonviolent Communication by Marshal Rosenberg book cover
civil rights march on Washington

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge.


Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.”


-John Lewis