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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