By Sister Diane Guerin
Nonviolence is the personal practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. The Sisters of Mercy have chosen to focus on nonviolence in the coming years as the lens through which we approach the critical issues of our time, including immigration, racism, gender inequality and degradation of Earth.
Just pick up a newspaper or search the internet and read the headlines. Honduran environmentalist Berta Caceras was murdered in her home in March 2016. North Korea threatened to launch a missile towards the U.S. territory of Guam in October 2017. In the same month, assassins killed Daphne Caruana, a female journalist in Panama, because of her blogs about the government. In December 2017, martial law was extended for another year in the Philippines in the Muslim-dominated south. In 2017, the United States suffered 345 mass shootings, with 434 deaths. Headlines like these and the stories of violence experienced by sisters throughout our Institute impelled us as Sisters of Mercy to a deeper response to nonviolence.
Hearing about the damage and destruction of violence worldwide, you might feel hopeless or powerless. But we do possess the power to change. We must begin first within ourselves before we can hope to impact violent systems and structures.
The lives of activists such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day make us aware that nonviolence is more than a tactic for social struggle. It can be a guide for our personal life and our everyday encounters with family, friends, co-workers and even strangers whom we might engage while waiting in line at the bank or the grocery store.
When we hear the word “nonviolence,” often we immediately think to ourselves: “Well, I don’t really need to concern myself with that, because I am not a violent person.” But let’s look at our own behaviors.
Prayerfully reflect about this for a minute:
- Are we ever violent to ourselves? Overcommitting or refusing to ask for help when overburdened are possible examples.
- Do we practice nonviolent speech? The words we choose and our manner of speaking reveals what we feel and who we are.
- Do we speak from a heart steeped in nonviolence?
- Are we able to practice restraint and work toward achieving cooperation rather than competition?
- Are we resisting cultural pressure toward violence in our language, use of sarcasm, jokes at the expense of another?
All of these things are about cultivating a sense of personal nonviolence in our lives and in our relationships with others. It has to begin with us, just like the ripple created when a pebble is tossed into the water and sends out multiple other ripples, reaching far and wide.
One cannot aspire to nonviolence unless it is practiced in everyday situations and interactions. This challenges each of us to a greater consciousness of our words and actions.
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers”
Luke 6:28-29 “Love your enemies”
Matthew 12:23 “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”