As I continue my essay series on the principles of nonviolence, I would beg that you read all of the previous ones before this one. It will make this one mean so much more to your life. It will help you understand more on how to add nonviolence to your way of life. The fifth principle of nonviolence from Martin Luther King’s Pilgrimage to Nonviolence reads:
A fifth point concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chains of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.
In speaking of love at this point, we are not referring to some sentiment of affectionate emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. Love in this connection means understanding, redemptive goodwill. Here the Greek language comes to our aid. There are three words for love in the Greek New Testament. First, there is Eros. In Platonic philosophy Eros meant the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come now to mean a sort of aesthetic or romantic love. Second, there is philia which means intimate affection between personal friends. Philia denotes a sort of reciprocal love; the person loves because he is loved.
As we meet and interact with those who do not hold our views, those to which we disagree, those to whom we wish to dialog with and those to with which we seek reconciliation, we must never act out in violence of any sort. Each of our words should be chosen carefully as not to hurt them. Each of our direct actions must be done in ways in which love can shine through. Otherwise we are just answering their hate with more hate, their violence with more violence.
It is not easy to hold the sarcasm back even when we try to justify it as a tool to shake things up, it is still violence. We must refrain from the use of signs that degrade our opponents. We must refrain from words that take the moral high ground. We must come to our opponent with a sense of love accompanied by justice.
This is most important in our dialogs. Regardless what insults are hurled, they must not come from us. We must answer with the truth and the facts and ignore the insults. To throw more insults into the debate just fuels the fire for more. Where would that get us. It is important to ask yourself before an action, what will this action do to my opponent. Will it help or hurt the chance of finding a win-win reconciliation. The truth is more than we need. We don’t need to insult or hurt our opponents. We don’t need to engage in power struggles of who has more power. The truth is the only power we need. Dr. King said:
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
This is where we must swallow our anger to the pit of our heart and turn it into active love. This is where we must examine every action and word to be sure it is nonviolent. Dr. King goes on to explain in the Pilgrimage to Nonviolence that Agape love means that we are all brothers and what harm we inflict on others we inflict on ourselves. When we do things to annoy or irritate our adversary, we lower our chances of finding true reconciliation with them. Rather than building trust and respect that works toward reconciliation, we anger and annoyed and found more opposition. Without reconciliation, the suffering and injustice we seek to end will only continue. We only hurt ourselves and our adversary when we do not act in love. What we do to one, affects us all.
The fourth principle of nonviolence reads:
“A fourth point that characterizes nonviolent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. ‘Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood,’ Gandhi said to his countrymen. The nonviolent resister … does not seek to dodge jail. If going to jail is necessary, he enters it ‘as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber…’
This principle has been personal lately for me. I have read some stuff on the web from other bloggers that have some colorful things to say about me. I am not much bothered by it, but once in a great while they will write something that makes my heart sink when I read it. It does in fact hurt me. What I have notice about it is that for the most part, their snappy little comments are not based on me. It is really about them. They don’t really know me, so their comments about me (I know) are unfounded and usually not true. There is a basis for me telling you all this.
This principle is really about removing yourself from the conflict. When someone calls you names, like “faggot” or “dike”, “Nigger” or “towelhead”. It isn’t really about you. It is about the person who said it, it is all about them. When you suddenly realize the comments are not really about you, they don’t really hurt anymore. Instead I tend to feel sorry for those who use those terms so violently. What pain lies in them that makes them so violent?
It is at this point we must decide for ourselves how to respond to these blows, with love or with more hate? It becomes so much easier to take the “blows” when you know they are not really about you. By not striking back, this facts becomes shame for the one who has lashed out in the first place. When they realize you are not going to be violence to them, they realize that the violence doesn’t work. What they intended to do was hurt you, and it didn’t work. Even when they draw blood, they see that they have not hurt you. Why on earth would anyone take blows like that you ask? For the goal of the beloved community would be my answer. At some point the violence whether it be of speech or action, it needs to stop. Hate doesn’t stop hate. Love stops hate. Violence doesn’t get stopped by more violence, it is stopped by love.
Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”
But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
So many people have mistaken the “turn the other cheek” thing to mean walk away. It does not mean that at all. It means to literally “offer the other side of your face” to be hit. Nonviolence is not about being inactive. As King said it is “love in action”. It is about pointing out to your adversary that because you love them and the world you are willing to suffer if will put an end to the conflict. You are willing to take whatever they are willing to dish out for the sake of the cause. In the Civil Rights Movement this meant being arrested, being beaten, being harassed. We have all seen the picture Rosa Parks being arrested. It makes it look so peaceful. Do you really think for a minute that it was that peaceful when she refused to give up her seat? I can imagine the names she was called as she sat there waiting to be arrested. I can imagine the insults tossed her way. It only shows the amazing courage she had to suffer for the greater cause.
Going back to what I was saying earlier, it is so much easier to take the name calling and the blows when you do not see it as suffering. When you see it as a small price to pay in the scope of a better world. Think of the thoughts that must have gone through Rosa Parks head at the moment she said “I am not getting up”. Think about the thoughts when the next thing she heard was “Get to the back of the bus, Nigger”. Did she smile to herself and say call me what you want, I don’t care. It isn’t about me, it is about Justice
The Third principle of Noviolence laid out by Martin Luther King, Jr. is:
This method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who are caught in those forces. It is evil we are seeking to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil. Those of us who struggle against racial injustice must come to see that the basic tension is not between races. As I like to say to the people in Montgomery, Alabama: “The tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory it will be a victory not merely for 50,000 Negroes, but a victory for justice and the forces of light. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may happen to be unjust.”
Nonviolence is a new way of thinking, it is a new way of seeing conflict and a new way of seeing those to whom we have conflicts. In our old way of thinking our CONCERNS are about us and our AGRESSIONS are towards the person. We see only how the problems affect “us”. We are not concerned about the person, our adversary. We are conerned about us. We see the person as the problem, we are blind to the real problem, that which lies underneath causing the conditions with which we disagree.
When we try to fight violence with violence it only creates more violence. All of our energies go at the person doing what we call evil never adressing the real issues that caused anyone to act the way they do. If someone calls us a name, and we respond by calling them names, they now want to respond with more names. Where does that end? If we were to respond to what the person has done (call us names) and not them, we are addressing the real issue.
With Nonviolence our CONCERNS and AGRESSIONS become reversed. Instead of being concerned about the problem, we are concerned about the person. Instead of our AGRESSION being directed at the person, they are directed at the problem. It is a way of reaching out to others to solve conflict without destroying each other. Nonviolence requires us to love. Nonviolence requires us to direct our anger at the problem not the person.
The second principle of nonviolence is harder for some to grasp, as I was being trained in nonviolence I had some in my class who struggled with this one. For me, this was the easiest to understand and yet remains the hardest to make a part of my everyday life. I am working on that in my journey to nonviolence.
“A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent … The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”
For me this is about awakening in others the idea of the beloved community. It is this idea that in each one of us, there is good. It is the idea that even when we hurt others and pretend it doesn’t bother us that we did it, the truth is…it does. Unless we are talking some psychopath with no sense of moral conscience, we all have that little voice inside us that tells us wrong from right. Nonviolence hopes to tap that sense of right and wrong so that we see our opponents as people, not as evil. I have to say even lately I struggle to do this in my life. It is not a task for the weak in spirit, only the courageous at heart. Some days I think it is an experiment in strength and a test of humanity in myself.
What makes this so hard is that opponent don’t want to believe you will not hit back, not in speech or action. They at first want to test you to see if it is really true that you won’t hit back. While King talked about this principle in such a social change context, I am applying this to everyday life. I want to see this applied to all conflict not just the big social change issues. Some have summed this principle up into the idea, “The Beloved Community is the Goal”. To me that means that if your actions or words are not at least working toward the goal, then you are not truly nonviolent. Of course as I said in part one of this series, I cannot say I will ever be completely nonviolent, it is my goal to try.
I think the last line from king speaks volumes about how we speak and act with others. I could print for you some of the hate mail I have received for having this site. I often wonder what after effect to did the writers have? Did they think the harsh words would have some positive outcome? Did they think I would be scared by them? What was the desired effect? Even the ones who proclaimed to be speaking for god, were as violent as could be. Did they think they would gain my trust by mentioning god? I have learned to just delete most of it, but every so often I reach an reply with love. The reply fall into two categories: Shock or mistrust. I am never exactly sure how to respond to either, but I usually try to stop myself and see the opponent as a person with feelings. I try to see them in a different light, one where I might understand them. Which I believe is what this principle really speaks to: us seeing each other as a Beloved Community. That is the goal.
So what does this mean in our everyday life? Lets say you go to the Dunkin Donuts for Coffee and the young man behind the counter is being such a jerk. The typical human response or so I have seen it to out-jerk him. Be a bigger jerk back to him so you can show him whose boss. Nonviolence asks us to take his “jerk” like behavior knowing that it has nothing to do with us. Nonviolence asks us to stop and think: “Wow, maybe he is having a really bad day”. If we respond to his “jerk” behavior knowing that even the “jerk” behind the counter is part of the beloved community and we treat him as such. Maybe he will stop in his tracks, realize he is being a jerk and stop his “Jerk” behavior. Maybe our friendly warm response to his behavior will shame him for just long enough to say “wow, I am being a jerk” or we could do the typical human response and try to out-jerk him. What happens when we do that? He tries to out-jerk you even more and then we have to ask ourselves: Where does that stop.
It is when we see each and every person as part of the “beloved community” suddenly it is easier to see people as people and their actions as their actions. We see that when we address the underlying issues that maybe someones having a bad day, it allows us to attack the evil rather than the person. It adds a sense of compassion that allows us to know we are all part of the beloved community even when we are being jerks. All of us are capable of being a jerk. It is when someone points this out that we stop and look at our self and know we want better for ourselves and the world.
For each person who has embraced nonviolence there is a journey to nonviolence. We are each in different places on that journey. Some live a life of complete nonviolence. Other are still working towards it. On my path to nonviolence I find that writing and reading about it helps me to understand it and hopefully live it. I am going to start writing these essays on each of the principles of nonviolence MLK put forth to us in his many writings. There are many versions of nonviolence but the root is always the same: Jesus Christ and the Sermon on the Mount. For the purpose of this series I will be focusing on Kingian Nonviolence. I am going to start with Principle one, of course, but at anytime you may go and read Dr. King’s words on all the principles in the main links section on the left side of this page.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Wrote in the Pilgrimage to Nonviolence:
First, it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses these methods because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight. He made this statement conscious of the fact that there is always another alternative: no individual or group need submit to any wrong, nor need they use violence to right the wrong; there is the way of nonviolent resistance. This is ultimately the way of the strong man. It is not a method of stagnant passivity. The phrase “passive resistance”; often gives the false impression that this is a sort of “do-nothing method” in which the resister quietly and passively accepts evil. But nothing is further from the truth. For while the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong. The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive non-resistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
I have to ask myself everyday what this means and how I can make it work for each and everyday of my life. I ponder it in my car while I am driving and someone shoots me the finger for going to the speed limit when they want to speed. I have to decide whether to I return that show of violence with more violence by hitting the horn and shooting it right back or do I smile and ignore it knowing that any response is a return of that violence.
It is such an easy way out to just yell “fuck you” at those who disagree with you and have called you names and insults, but then ask yourself where does this get you? You haven’t made a new ally you have made an enemy. It never addressed the underlying issues of why they called you names in the first place. Nonviolence seeks to ask those underlying issues so that true reconciliation can be found. It is my belief this is the only way true peace can be found in this world. Although just yelling “Fuck you” is easy and feels good, it is the act of a coward to do so. A truly courageous person controls that anger and turns it into love. A truly courageous person just takes the name calling as redemptive suffer knowing that with that suffering the violence stops with them. The suffereing becomes a gift to the world.
One point in this principle of the philosophy is that nonviolence is not passive, it is active. It is not letting your opponet or adversary walk all over you. It is the idea of using your opponet’s sense of good to persuade them of the injustice or violence and the demand that it be stopped. It is the belief that in our hearts, we are all good and that we know what is right, even when people are not doing what is right or just. If we use that sense of right and wrong, combined with a sense of brotherly love, then we are acting nonviolently. It is a powerful weapon against hate.
So when we talk about nonviolence, I guess we need to ask what is violence. I could go look up lots of defintions, but I prefer to explain what I feel violence is. Many of you may disagree with me and that is perfectly fine. I hope as you go through your day, a definition that works for you comes to your heart. For me, violence is any words or actions that set us up on different levels of power. Any word or action that seems to make one of us or a one group of us more powerful than others. That make one of us stand in a position over power over another for the sense of control. Maybe that could be as simple as calling someone a name with the intent to hurt them, maybe it is insulting them in some attempt to feel a sense of power over them. Maybe it is hitting them down physically so that one stands to be more powerful. Those are all acts of violence. Whenever we allow others to take the higher moral ground at the expense of others it is violence. My definition of violence may change as my journey to nonviolence goes on but that is where I am right now.
Now that we know what I feel violence is we can decide how does a courageous person stand up to violence as oppose to a coward. A coward responds to violence with more violence. It is they easy way out therefore it is a response of the weak. Cowards will respond to a display of violence with their own display of violence. One who embraces the courage of nonviolence responds with a display a love knowing the violence stops with them. It is not a sign of power it is a sign of Agape love. Violence in itself is cowardly. Just the need in one’s self to find power from stomping on others spirits is an act of a coward. To be courageous we need to know our power comes from a higher source. Call that the universe or god, it is still a power that lies within us rather than from outside us.
This brings me to my final though on this principle. It starts with us. It starts in me. It is the idea that I need to live a life a nonviolence with my heart. I need to treat myself with a sense of nonviolence as well as others.
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"Be the change you wish to see in the world"
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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