Nonviolence is often used as a synonym for peace. It refers specifically to the absence of violence, and is always the choice to do no harm, or the least harm. Nonviolence is not passivity or pacifism, which are choices to take no action.
Violence is psychological or physical force, exerted for the purpose of threatening, injuring, damaging, or abusing people or property. All the world's major religious faiths have used oppression, fear, superstition, violence, and sexism to attain or maintain power. Violent physical force is often a reaction in self-defense against a violent aggressor.
Nonviolence can be peaceful resistance to a government by fasting, or refusing to cooperate. But nonviolence is not purely political; it suggests a philosophy of peace, or an inner quality of compassion.
An ideal world would be nonviolent—one in which violence could never be justified. The most beneficial paths for humankind are those leading to truth, wisdom, and mutual understanding. Change is best effected through the subtle influence of awareness gained through education, not coercion, threat, or violence.
'Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.'—Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964