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“Nonviolence Does Not Mean Avoiding Conflict”

(This is the fourth of 5 short selections from an interview with Waging Nonviolence co-founder Nathan Schneider. You can read the first installment of the interview series here, here and here.) Nathan will be the featured guest for BPF’s monthly phone call on October 27th.)

On the Waging Nonviolence website, it says, “For us, to wage nonviolence is to embrace conflict, so we try to embrace such conflicts in constructive ways.” This is quite encouraging to me, because in my experience, and as I’ve been hearing from fellow Buddhists who are also active in political organizing, Buddhists can have a tendency to be very turned off by confrontation and open conflict in the political realm.  It’s sometimes seen as unnecessarily divisive.  What are some of the key ways that successful nonviolent movements embrace conflict, rather than denying it?

Truth, and courage, and discipline reveal themselves through a justly waged conflict. I’m a storyteller; what good stories are there with no conflict in them? This is how we learn and how we grow. It is as natural to human life as eating and sleeping. Whether or not to have conflict is a useless question, because we will no matter what—the question is how we engage in it. Do we seek to destroy our enemies out of fear? Or do we seek to assert ourselves to make the world better for everyone? Nonviolent movements embrace conflict by taking actions, both individual and collective, small and large, that put the truth before false compliance. When there is a crisis, and systemic violence taking place under a veneer of social order, movements make that crisis visible. They sow division when there really are divisions that an unjust system would rather have us ignore. Nonviolence does not mean avoiding conflict, it means entering into conflict more justly, more humanely, and more directly.

Nathan Schneider is a co-founder and editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, both published in 2013 by University of California Press, are Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse and God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet. He has written about religion, reason and violence for publications including The Nation, The New York Times, Harper’s, Commonweal, Religion Dispatches, AlterNet and others. Visit his website at

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