What Does Nonviolence Mean to Me?

By Shirley McDonald
March 8, 2005

As a member of the “Season For Nonviolence” Alliance, I’d like to share some thoughts about “forgiveness” as an aspect of nonviolence and peace.

First of all, what does it mean to forgive? The dictionary definition is:

> to give up resentment against;

> to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for an offense;

> to give up revengeful feelings.

So, the opposite of forgiveness is holding a grudge, feeling resentment, and holding thoughts of revenge or punishment.

We can easily see the impact on the outside world when one isn’t engaging in violent actions and behaviors because they have chosen to forgive. But before violence is brought out into the world in the form of physical attacks, yelling, gossip, character assassination, etc., the violence is created within the mind. And this is what I want to focus on – the effect of forgiveness on the inner world within the mind of the forgiver.

The thoughts we hold in our minds affect our own inner atmosphere. Mentally replaying, speaking about, and thinking about the “wrongs” someone has done creates an inner atmosphere of turmoil and violence for the person holding the thought. Every time we replay the offensive incident in our minds, we are causing more injury and pain to ourselves. It keeps our focus on what we don’t want, keeps us in the role of “victim,” and often immobilizes us.

The inner peace we’re looking for won’t come through the punishment of another or by their acknowledgment of how “bad” or “wrong” they are/were.

Does this mean just accepting everything in the world the way it is, not holding people accountable for their actions, and not working to make any changes in the world? No.

The two leaders that we are honoring during this Season For Nonviolence, (Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) certainly can’t be labeled as people who just accepted injustices or lived without making any changes in the world. They made huge changes … revolutionary changes, in the world.

And they did it through nonviolent means, and not only through the use of nonviolent actions. It first started with nonviolent thoughts.

Think of the inspirational speeches of both of these men. Where was their focus?

They weren’t stuck on retaliation, blaming, condemning, and seeking punishment for what had been done in the past. Instead, they used the contrast of what they could see they didn’t want more of to envision the policies and ideals of the world that they did want to create. They used their words to inspire people to see the possibility that they saw and to take action that would manifest those possibilities.

This is what forgiveness does. It is about taking charge of where we want our own focus to be. The act of forgiveness allows us to move from an inner atmosphere of turmoil and violence where we have been (unconsciously?) choosing to use our energy to hold onto anger, resentment, an old wound or visions of what we don’t want, and releases that energy so we can work toward creating what it is that we do want.

I like the image of being in a hot air balloon held down with cords that are attached to anchors and realizing that I have a choice. I can choose to remain “corded” to those anchors or I can let go of my hold on them, which would result in the balloon naturally rising. I have experienced that same feeling of ascension, or a lightness of being, when I have chosen to release the cords that I have held on to that have kept me tied to some offense.

Let’s be very clear. Forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with whether the other person has made a change in their behavior or whether they have been remorseful; it isn’t condoning or justifying what the person has or hasn’t done.

Forgiving really isn’t about anyone else at all. Forgiveness is completely in the control of the forgiver. It allows the forgiver to release himself or herself from the bondage of inner turmoil and from being bound to someone else’s behavior. This is inner peace.

Today, you have a choice … peace is possible.

Shirley McDonald is a member of the Alliance celebrating the 64 days of the “Season For Non-Violence” (Jan. 30-April 4), which honors the lives of Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and their examples of nonviolence. McDonald lives in Nevada City and has been teaching “Designing Your Life” workshops for the past 10 years, assisting a wide variety of people to consciously create their next phase of life. Forgiveness, and letting go of the past, is an important step of this process.