WHY OH WHY do people think that taking the initiative is DESTROYING people
You're illiciting a response so you can control the situation. This lets you resolve the confrontation in your way. Whether the response that you illicit is an apology, they walk away, they react to an atemi which gives you an opening to peacefully take them to the ground in a harmoniously painful way, or even they are throwing a flurry of punches and kicks and you DO something, it's still taking the initiative.
Initiative != destroying someone. I thought Aikidoka had more control than that..
Thank you Brandon for answering the rhetorical question: no, Aikido is not about destroying or pummelling people; it is, at least, about harmony, respect, control, and initiative, among other things, as far as I can tell.
One thing more to possibly consider: non-violence is proven to be viable. Gandhi helped his nation gain independence with non-violence and Martin Luther King, Jr. practically demanded civil rights through non-violence. Both of these men, in my opinion, positively thrived on initiative, took more than their shares of abuse, and made tremendous, positive differences in the lives of millions.
Aikido, I think, gives us a great insight to the nature of attacks and our possible responses to those attacks. As you said, living the good life can be a great initiative. In an unavoidable confrontation, however, most of us will try to survive, and it is in these trying times that our characters will be revealed.