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.
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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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