The Two Hands of Active Nonviolence

by Marilyn Shea, OSF

The fifth in a series on active nonviolence from the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa (


As I try to practice active nonviolence in my daily life, one image I find helpful is the image of the two hands of nonviolence.   The first hand is firmly held up, palm facing forward, to say STOP and the second hand is outstretched, palm up, in a gesture of friendship. This simple action images perfectly the attitude of a person who practices active nonviolence. It reminds me that I should speak up against violence or injustice instead of avoiding it. At the same time, I should focus on the unjust act, not the person responsible for it. I need to respect the other person and not treat him or her as an enemy.   I need to seek understanding and reconciliation with those who may have ideas or values that differ from mine.

St. Francis would suggest that we look to Jesus for an example of how He dealt with potential conflict and violence. In John 8:1-11, we read that a group of men brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. The men reminded him that the law said such women should be stoned. Knowing that Jesus preached mercy and forgiveness, the men asked him what he had to say about the case. Would Jesus speak against the law, or would he agree that the woman should be stoned? Jesus did neither. Instead, He offered a nonviolent response.   Writing on the ground, He invited anyone without sin to throw the first stone. When the men went away, Jesus told the woman that she, too, could go, but to avoid this sin in the future.

Notice how Jesus modeled the attitude of the two hands of nonviolence in this story. I think it is interesting to note that Jesus stopped the violence of stoning without condoning the adultery.  He also didn’t condemn either the woman or the men, but invited them to examine their own actions.

Consider how you usually express your feelings in reaction to violence or conflict? Would the two hands approach make a difference in the outcome? We invite you to share your experiences dealing with conflict.

Marilyn Shea, OSF

Published in: on August 17, 2015 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

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