'Nonviolence is the most effective method to work for rights.'
The only constant is change. Life either gets better or worse. These days, the world is on fire. Metaphorically and literally. And things seem to be getting worse for humanity.
That doesn't mean we can't make things better.
"The future must be a future of nonviolence," the great Italian peacemaker Lanza del Vasto once wrote, "or else there will be no future."
Violence, war, and injustice did not always exist. According to UNESCO (the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), archaeological research shows that early prehistoric human societies got along. Nomadic hunter-gatherers collaborated and provided mutual support. It was necessary for their survival and to ensure reproduction.
Collective violence did not appear until nomadic communities settled down in the Near East at the end of the Palaeolithic era, around 13,000 B.C., and transitioned to living in one place. Over the next 10,000 years, conflicts developed. When the economy shifted to food production from getting food by killing animals (predation), the concept of ownership was born. This led to the emergence of inequalities, hierarchical structures, slaves, power struggles, and intercommunity conflicts.
In 5,500 B.C., the arrival of new migrants increased conflicts between villages. The conflicts multiplied during the Bronze Age (before 3,000 B.C.). Metal weapons were made. War became institutionalized.
The idea of prehistoric humans being wild, warlike savages is a myth, started in the late 19th century and early 20th century by writers and artists, to reinforce our "civilization" and progress since the beginning of humanity.
"Violence is not inscribed in our genes," explained Marylène Patou-Mathis, a prehistorian and research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. "Its appearance has historical and social causes — the concept of 'primordial (original) violence' is a myth. War is therefore not inseparable from the human condition, but is the product of societies, and the cultures it generates. As the studies of early human societies show, when faced with crises, a community is more resilient if it is based on cooperation and mutual support, rather than on individualism and competition."
Can we go back to our prehistoric human roots of nonviolence? It won't be easy.
"Nonviolence is not an option for the weak or the cowardly. It requires a lot more discipline, strength, and internal power," says Jonathan Kuttab, a Christian Palestinian, human rights advocate, peace activist, and co-founder of Nonviolence International and Friends of Sabeel of North America. "Nonviolence is the most effective method to work for rights. People are being provoked into violence on a daily basis. Many people deserve to fight for their rights. It makes more sense to struggle nonviolently than to resort to weapons."
Kuttab made his comments to the Beyt Tikkun community (a synagogue without walls) during the 2023 Jewish High Holidays, sharing an inspirational vision and message for the future of Palestine and Israel that is even more relevant now.
There is a lot of anger in the world today. War and violence is often the response. War and violence leads to more war and violence, which leads to more pain and suffering, which makes things worse for humanity.
Nonviolence means standing up for what is right without violence. Nonviolence is a tool to fight injustice, wrongdoing, and harm. Nonviolence is a humane way to hold people accountable.
"It is a battle we need to fight, internally, within ourselves, within our community, and also with the other side," says Kuttab, who believes Palestine and Israel are facing a spiritual crisis and need to go back to basic principles.
Who are we?
What do we believe in?
What do we hold as important values?
How, in fact, can we live together?
That is the challenge for us. Whether we like it or not. Whether we think there is any justice in it or not. Whether we think it is fair or not. We have to think about each other. And we have to live with each other. The future has to be a joint future. We need to learn to live together. Not to claim superiority. On the basis of equality, of dignity, of a joint future together, for us, for our children, for our grandchildren. … We must hold to some kind of human value and divine plan for everyone concerned. It still may be a long struggle. It is a vision worth holding onto.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. It's time for a difficult awakening. Nonviolence can lead to better outcomes for the whole world. We can start at home in our own communities.
Who needs help? How can we connect people to what they need? How can we work together to make things better for everyone?
Every human being deserves the right to live a healthy, dignified, fulfilling life.
Eric Ortiz lives in the Wedge with his family. When he’s not community building, he’s the head of content and strategy for Big Edition and writes bilingual children’s books with his kids. Their first book, “How the Zookalex Saved the Village,” is available in English and Spanish.
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