Maria J. Stephan considers why and how to resist the impulse to meet violence with violence.
I mean, the natural instinct is to respond to violence with violence. When I’m talking with activists from difficult, repressive environments around the world, I completely empathise with them and understand why they want to respond in kind. It’s a natural instinct, it’s often therapeutic – but it’s not strategic. And if you want to be victorious and you want to win as a resister, you have to do what your challenger – your opponent – does not want you to do. And authorities and regimes often want protesters to use violence, because it justifies their own violence in return and it delegitimises the movement.
And so non-violent discipline – the ability to maintain a non-violent posture when provoked or when violence is used against you – is one of the, if not the most important ingredients of successful non-violent resistance. And you can bolster non-violent discipline through training, through preparation, through anticipation of the violence that’s coming, and knowing how to respond and what to do and what not to do. So this is often part of classic training in non-violent action in civil resistance, is how to respond effectively to violence and not do what the opponent wants you to do.