Isn’t violence sometimes necessary, for example in self-defence or to defend those who cannot defend themselves?

What is the good of advocating non-violence in a dangerous and violent world? If we don’t have armies our countries may be invaded; if we don’t defend the weak they may be exploited and crushed. With such arguments we defend violence; and the more we defend violence, the more prevalent it becomes.

Are we really concerned about violence, or only concerned with defending our own? What is our own – ‘our’ property, ‘our’ resources, ‘our’ national borders? All such claims are arbitrary and invite violence, since other people and nations will inevitably make different claims. The mentality of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is one of the primary factors that is causing violence in the world.

If we are concerned about violence, not just towards the weak but to any human beings – and indeed towards other sentient beings and the natural environment – we need to understand its nature, causes and implications. Violence can take many forms – physical, sexual, psychological, political, economic. Though we may not be physically violent we may be contributing to violence indirectly, unwittingly or otherwise – for example by voting for aggressive politicians or by purchasing goods from exploitative corporations. If we are nationalistic, we will be contributing to divisions that lead to international conflict.

Resorting to violence may ‘solve’ a particular problem, for example by protecting a group of people from an aggressor. But it cannot solve the broader human problem of violence; on the contrary, it may only make it worse by entrenching the prevailing culture of violence. The development of the atom bomb hastened the end of World War 2, but left the world in peril of even greater destruction.

The root of violence lies in the self: that is, in our perception of the world in terms of ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’, ‘me’ and ‘you’. This misguided perception is the cause of all our insecurity, and of the violence to which insecurity gives rise. As long as we are preoccupied with our own interests and ambitions there can be little peace or compassion in the world. The ending of selfishness requires not moral discipline but ending the illusion that we are separate. In ending this illusion there comes a freedom that includes compassion for all humanity.