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There are many instances when nurses face situations of violence in which there is both a perpetrator and a victim. Violence takes many forms and occurs in domestic and public domain and in the extreme situation of war.


The noted French scholar and Islamicist, Louis Massignon,* in his writings during the French Algerian War, asks us to consider Gandhi's concern that assuming moral superiority in any confrontation can lead to further violence.


"Why is there this apparent flaw in nonviolence for witnessing truth (and, what is indispensable, all truth)? Gandhi explained it by observing that a brutal witnessing in favor of truth, using apparent physical nonviolence, opens the war to a spiritual violence, to a weapon more menacing than the worst material weapons. When we use truth as a privilege and monopoly to force an adversary to humiliate himself as a liar, then the flickering conscience which he has even in his most indefensible physical violence is unable to submit to our truth because we have refused to recognize that he has a conscience at all."1(p188)


"Humility before both (the wounded and the perpetrator) enables us to respect the consciences of even the most brutal men. If we deny that to them by our criticisms, we will only make them more violent in their self-assertions. We must be prepared, as Gandhi was before us, to stand between if necessary those who no longer grant each other their humanity."1(p60) (The reader should be reminded that Gandhi's teaching of nonviolence in confrontational situations requires understanding and respect for the other without fear or retreat into passivity.)


We are in our own times confronted by violence in various forms even ominous threats of war. It behooves us always to strive to understand and search for the roots of other's humanity without which we are left with dangerous assumptions and fear. All violence breeds tragic consequences for the victims and for the perpetrators who are betraying the consciences they have been given. In sum, the tragedy is not that the perpetrators have no conscience but that they are by their actions betraying the conscience they have in denying the humanity of others.




1. Mason H. This Never Happened! Raleigh, NC: LuLu Press; 2010. [Context Link]


Louis Massignon (1883-1962) was a distinguished scholar and translator of classical Islamic literary culture, religious tradition, and thought. [Context Link]