Being non-violent is not naturally easy for human beings. Non-violence requires a measure of self-discipline, self-control, and mental fortitude. It requires that we see beyond ourselves, shifting our perspective outside our own self-interest and point of view.
Steven Pinker writes about this in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker writes, “insofar as violence is immoral, the Rights Revolutions show that a moral way of life often requires a decisive rejection of instinct, culture, religion, and standard practice. In their place is an ethics that is inspire by empathy and reason and stated in the language of rights.”
When we are not measured, when we do not exercise self-control, and when we lack mental fortitude, we can become violent. Just as we can become addicted to substances, indulgent in too many desserts, and unwilling to go to the gym, we can lash out physically against others when we do not think through our actions with reason and discipline. We are social creatures, so having mental fortitude and thinking about our actions within the context of the society we are a part of is natural for us, but that doesn’t mean it is always the easy, default way of being.
Violence has been a long standing element of our social arrangements and behaviors behaviors. Whether through instinct, which said that we must kill a neighbor to protect what is ours, through cultural practices which failed to put taboos on violence between spouses, religions which encouraged eternal rewards for violent deaths defending religious principals, or eye-for-an-eye criminal justice policies, violence has been an accepted part of many of our institutions. But a language of rights and empathy toward other people have reduced the role and acceptance of violence in our institutions. Rational thought, combined with mental fortitude is making our species a less violent species over time. Non-violence is not easy, but it is something we can rationally program into our institutions in continually better ways.