One of the more common misperceptions in practicing Nonviolence is that one has to aspire to be Gandhi or King or Chavez or Jesus or Buddha or… If you can find yourself on that path, fantastic. But even the luminous religious leaders of Nonviolence gave greater weight to the question, ” Will it work? Will this action bring about social justice?”

Barbara Deming is one of the more brilliant Nonviolence theorists you’ve never heard of. She offered for many the first understanding that Nonviolence doesn’t necessarily need a religious basis. We don’t have to be saints to practice Nonviolence nor do we have to be perfect to use Nonviolence to win social battles.

A member of Nonviolence United forwarded to us this link from Chapter 12: Barbara Deming in the book “American Nonviolence: The History of An Idea” by Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Ira does a wonderful job bringing together some of Barbara Deming’s thoughts on Nonviolence. Here are a few quotes (including direct quotes of Deming) from that chapter:

“Just as Nonviolence gives more balance to those who use it, it also throws their opponents off balance. “People who attack others need rationalizations for doing so. We undermine those rationalizations.” The opponents expect a threat of losing everything, including their physical safety. When this ultimate threat is obviously taken away, they become confused; they hesitate in their response; they have to think before they act: “We undo their minds. And it is at this point that they become vulnerable to receiving a new idea.”


“Balance and control come from healthy anger. This is just as aggressive as the unhealthy kind. But it is based on a belief and hope for change in social roles and institutions. Healthy anger demands change and creates the confrontations needed for change to occur. It also gives the other an opportunity to help make that change. “Our task, of course, is to transmute the anger that is affliction into the anger that is determination to bring about change. I think, in fact, that one could give that as a definition of revolution.”


“To use this advantage, nonviolent activists must always oppose unjust actions rather than the people who do the actions. They must separate the unjust person from his or her role in society: ‘Seek to destroy not the abusers of power but the sources of that power, which are certainly not their particular bodies.’ By separating individuals from their roles, it is easier to establish communication with them. The more they are engaged in conversation, the more they can be influenced by nonviolent action. In all these ways, nonviolence makes the opponent the one who gets dizzy. And that gives the nonviolent activists more control of the situation.”

You may also purchase “American Nonviolence: The History of An Idea” from Orbis Books.