Born in central Vietnam in 1926, Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has dedicated his life to the work of inner transformation and nonviolence for the benefit of individuals and society. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 for his work to end the Vietnam War.
In a 2003 interview with Bob Abernethy on PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, he shared some thoughts on the high level of violence in our society and how we can reduce it.
Abernethy: We have violence all around us. As you observe what is going on in the world and in this country, does it seem to you we are becoming more violent?
Nhat Hanh: Yes, the level of violence in society is very high — violence in families, violence in schools, violence on the streets. We do not seem to focus our efforts in order to transform that violence; we are trying to seek violence outside and to invest all our time and energies and money in order to fight violence outside. But we don’t know that violence is there within ourselves, within our society.
There are ways to transform and to reduce the amount of suffering in our families, in our schools; but people have not done much in order to do that. We, as practitioners of transformation and healing — we know how to do it, how to help reduce the level of violence in our families, in our schools. And we don’t need money to do it. We need only people who know how to do it in order to make the plans, and to do it on a national level. I hope that people in this country will begin to think about that seriously and will move quickly in order to help in that direction.
Abernethy: Are there times when it is necessary to use violence in order to protect yourself, or protect your family, or your country?
Nhat Hanh: If you see someone who is trying to shoot, to destroy, you have to do your best in order to prevent him or her from doing so. You must. But you must do it out of your compassion, your willingness to protect, and not out of anger. That is the key point. If you need to use force, you have to use it, but you have to make sure that you act out of compassion and a willingness to protect, not out of anger.