“Work” vs. Work

The distinction, “work” vs. work is necessary to stress that the beneficial results of nonviolent action often lie in the future. “Work” means the immediate and obvious effects, while work without quotes designates the resulting underlying and fundamental shifts brought about by nonviolence. In other words, it means not “got what we wanted,” “does good work,”.  All action has consequences on various levels.  A nonviolent actor always takes into account the intended long-term objectives and consequences and not just the more expedient or visible results.  Because nonviolence can take time to address root causes of violence or injustice, people seeking immediate objectives often reject it on the grounds that nonviolence doesn’t “work”.Often they embrace violence because it satisfies an immediate need.  Unfortunately, ignoring the long-term adverse consequences of violence leads to lurching from crisis to crisis instead of steady improvement.

One can characterize this concept as follows:

Violence sometimes “works” but never works, while nonviolence sometimes works and always works.

Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha of 1930 is a classic example of this concept. At the cost of much suffering, the campaign produced virtually no change in the hated salt laws but historians have identified it as the turning point that lead to the independence of India 17 years later.


The Search for a Nonviolent Future, Michael Nagler, New World Library, Novato CA, 2004, Chap. 4.