Greetings friends and creators of beloved community,

The video recording for session one is available on our Crowdcast site.
Click HERE to view the video.

Thank you for your participation and attentiveness during our fourth session of Nonviolence and Social Change. Below is a summary recap of the fourth session. We hope the class met your expectations. Our goal was to provide a foundational and fundamental introduction to nonviolence and beloved community. The content of this page includes:

Two Hands of Nonviolence
Pieces of the Truth
Constructive Programs
Bonus Material

Session 1 | Session 2 | Session 3 | Session 4


This exercise is inspired by Barbara Deming, a feminist writer and activist. In her book Revolution and Equilibrium, she described active nonviolence as the creative tension that fuels both interpersonal  transformation and social change, and has two aspects, or “two hands.”

With one hand we say to one who in angry, or to an oppressor, or to an unjust system, “Stop what you are doing. I refuse to honor the role you are choosing to play, I refuse to obey you. I refuse to cooperate with your demands. I refuse to build the walls and the bombs. I refuse to pay for the guns. With this hand I will even interfere with the wrong you are doin. I want to disrupt the easy pattern of your life.”

But then the advocate of nonviolence lowers the other hand. It is lowered and outstretched—maybe with love and sympathy, maybe not—but always outstretched… With this hand we say, “I won’t let go of you or cast you out of the human race. I have faith that you can make a better choice than you are making now, and I’ll be here when you are ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.”

It is important to act to build structures, systems, processes, and resources that are positive alternative to oppression—constructive nonviolent actions. It is about doing what one can to create justice within one’s community. Gandhi saw it as a prerequisite to carrying out the more confrontational modes of nonviolent action.

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. That might be a perfect motto for all reconstructive work.” —Richard Rohr


One of the key Gandhian insights is that no one possesses the entire truth in a given situation. Instead, each person possesses a piece of the truth and the un-truth. Seeking a nonviolent solution to a conflict mean to uncover all the pieces of the truth held by the parties involved, so that solutions can incorporate everyone’s truth. Understanding ‘pieces of the truth’ can help us pot ourselves into another’s shoes so that we can see and feel what their piece of the truth may be.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is Habit 5 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and it seems easy enough to do on the surface, but for many people, it can be a difficult habit to implement. In order to build deep relationships and lead with clarity, you need to first truly understand what people are both saying and feeling when in conversation. This is normally referred to as empathic listening. Once you understand their story, then and only then you reply, based on what they have said. This avoids any preconceptions you may have, reduces the chance of conflict and allows you to listen intently, whilst developing respect and trust. It takes a great deal of security to go into a deep listening experience because we open ourselves up to be influenced. We become vulnerable. “Because you really listen, you become influenceable. And being influenceable is the key to influencing others.” This is why habits 1, 2 and 3 are so foundational: because they us allow us to remain centered and aware of ourselves, therefore handling vulnerability caused by an external source with confidence. Being understood is equally important in reaching Win/Win solutions. In Habit 4, Covey defines “maturity” as the balance between courage and consideration (c.f. article “Habit 4: Think Win/Win”). Seeking to understand requires consideration. Seeking to be understood needs courage. Win/Win requires a high degree of both.

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated. In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully. You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments while the other person is still speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what they’re saying. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak. It feels like talking to a brick wall and it’s something you want to avoid. Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple “uh huh.” You aren’t necessarily agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening. Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening can also help you to pay attention. Try to respond to the speaker in a way that will encourage them to continue speaking, so that you can get the information that you need. While nodding and “uh huhing” says you’re interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said also communicates that you are listening and understanding his message.

Here are some active listening phrases to consider and practice. Some are helpful and some unhelpful.

Helpful phrases
“I can see that you are feeling very angry right now…” is acknowledging.
“Can you tell me more?” is encouraging.
“Why?…What would you like to see happen?” is open questioning.
“Many people feel the way you do.” is normalizing.
“I can appreciate why you feel that way.” is empathizing.
“I appreciate your willingness to___” is validating.

Unhelpful phrases
“How did you come to that conclusion?” is prying.
“Let me see if I understand what you just said…” is summarizing.
“Don’t you think it would be better if you…?” is manipulating.
“Oh, that’s not such a big deal.” is excusing.
“It would be best if you were to…?” is giving answers.
“You should try to….when s/he….” is preaching.

Other phrases to consider
“Do you mean … ?”
— “I’m not sure I understand.”
— “Could you tell me a bit more about that?”
“It sounds like … ”
— “What I’m hearing is … ”
— “You seem a bit … ”
— “When?”
— “How?”
“I’ve noticed that … ”
“Let me make sure I’ve got this right.”
— “These are the main points I’ve heard you make so far.”
— “Let’s make sure I’m hearing you correctly.”
— “Let’s pause to make sure we’re on the same page.”
“I’m sorry. That really sucks.”
— “I’m sorry you’re going through that.”
— “What a crappy situation to be in. I’m sorry.”
— “That’s rough. How can I help?”


Constructive program is a term coined by Gandhi. It describes nonviolent action taken within a community to build structures, systems, processes or resources that are positive alternatives to oppression. It can be seen as self-improvement of both community and individual. Constructive program often works along side obstructive program, or Civil Disobedience, which usually involves direct confrontation to, or non-co-operation with, oppression. Constructive program is doing what one can to imaginatively and positively create justice within one’s own community.

Gandhi defined Constructive Program quite early in his career and coined the term to denote the myriad of activities that he felt were prerequisite to carrying out the more overt and confrontational modes of nonviolent action. For example, he established four ashrams in the course of his long career where satyagrahis, nonviolent actors, could live a nonviolent, creative life that was largely self-sufficient and sustainable. As Constructive Program took on more and more importance over the course of the Indian freedom struggle, the charkha or spinning wheel became its symbol. By using the spinning wheel to create home-spun cloth, each Indian could participate in the struggle to build a sustainable economy separate from the British textile industry. Spinning enabled every Indian to engage in the ‘bread labour’ of fulfilling a basic need, gave employment to millions of idled workers, and allowed all Indians to participate directly in freeing India from England’s economic domination. The spinning wheel became the ‘sun’ in the ‘solar system’ of many other projects.

Many modern nonviolent movements pay little or no attention to Constructive Program. Instead they focus all of their energy on non-cooperation and civil disobedience. Activists are tempted to reason that they can build a new society after the present regime is gone. Gandhi argued that the reality was reversed, and that the chances for permanent change were less without Constructive Program.

Key Aspects of 19 Constructive Program:

  • have political or social significance to the movement
  • engage participants in tangible action
  • have revolutionary potential, even when they are as far as possible not directly
  • increase self-reliance of movement
  • lessen dependency on opposition
  • tackle keystone issues that undermine the opposition’s pillars of support
  • projects should not be merely positive
  • they should be empowering to all participants

Principles of Constructive Program: 

  1. Constructive Program is the scaffolding upon which the structure of a new society will be built while struggling against the old.
  1. By empowering the positive force of nonviolence, constructive work balances the “noncooperation with evil” with “cooperation with good, creating an unstoppable force.
  1. By providing the people with basic needs through their own work, the lie of dependency is proven wrong and the chains of oppression shattered.
  1. It unifies diversity by creating work in which everyone can participate in. Such work is ongoing, proactive, and builds community.
  1. Constructive program trains people to live a nonviolent life. Just as training for violent revolt means the use of military weapons; training for Satyagraha means constructive program.

In order for constructive programs to have revolutionary power:

  1. Be concrete and constructive. Although programs can, and often do have symbolic resonance, they cannot be merely symbolic. (Gandhi’s spinning wheel was an ideal combination).
  1. Try to find “stealth” issues whose significance will be underestimated by the opposition – until its too late.
  1. Most importantly, tackle “keystone” issues that could weaken the whole system if successful; in other words actions that significantly undermine the oppressive power’s “pillars of support.”
  1. Be constructive whenever possible and resistant when necessary.
  1. Form a strategic overview that balances constructive and obstructive measures; shifting to one or the other as appropriate.


Constructive Program at Empowering Nonviolence

Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place

Gandhian Concept of Rural Reconstruction and Its Relevance Today by Dr. G. Vedanthadesikan

Misconceptions and Answers about Nonviolence (from the Metta Center for Nonviolence)

Six Principles of Nonviolence (from the Metta Center for Nonviolence)


Nonviolence is to be an artist of your humanity. To bring the best of you, not just by solving problems but also by living, by experiencing, by practicing. It’s about your humanity is my weapon and I have to be able to bring you to that place… One of the core principles of nonviolence—this core worldview of nonviolence—is the unwavering faith in humanity and in the goodness of people, no matter how much harm someone may have committed, that the possibility of transformation and the possibility of resilience is there. —Ali Abu Awwad