The Power To Be Found In Non-Violence
In Honor Of Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ve been contemplating the path of non-violence lately. Not just the brief speculation we all do about it where we consider it and then say, “Nah, it’s a nice thought but it’ll never work.” I’m talking about a real exploration of the philosophies and the people who advocated for it and put it into practice the most. As in, perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and Tolstoy and Jesus and a lot of others might actually have something to teach us. From just taking a peek around, I have to say I’ve found the idea to be liberating
In fact, in walking a few footsteps in the paths beaten by others, I have never felt so free. It has untethered me from beliefs and perspectives that have always made me feel as if I were not living my own best life but instead bowing to convention. All my life I was not really being myself, I was conforming to what others had told me was true. I was falling in line. It took a fair amount of courage and a better part of my life to step outside the lines that were drawn by society. Keep in mind, I have only taken a few baby steps with no real commitment other than to walk a few more. And yet I have to say I feel freer than I have at any time in my life.
A philosophy of non-violence is also a philosophy of non-compliance. Because I believe I have no right to force anyone to do anything, so too do I feel no one else has the right to tell me what to do. There is no authority over me save God and my own conscience. To them alone do I owe any obedience.
I feel free in ways I don’t think some can comprehend. Certainly, I feel freer than I used to be able to comprehend. Because my mind is free from coercion. My search for truth is not influenced by any who try to coerce me to accept THEIR truth. I do not feel obliged to hold any opinion save my own. But when you believe force and violence are acceptable ways of insuring justice, you tend to conflate force WITH justice. You tend to mistake the opinions of the powerful as your own since they have greater force. You shout down your inner opinions for fear that someone will shut them up for you.
You see, violence reverberates in a person. When you learn through violence, the lesson learned is that if you do the wrong thing you will be punished. Once the lesson is learned, the reaction is to obey BEFORE the violence starts. Very few slaves are able to accept slavery without allowing the threat of violence to affect not only their external behavior but their inner workings as well. Every system based on power and compulsion will be filled with slaves and masters.
But if you refuse to be another human’s master, if you refuse to believe in the master/slave relationship, you come to understand that the very idea is repellent to all that is good in us. You no longer see yourself as either slave or master, instead you are able to see the negative behavior in yourself and others when engaging in that mindset. Freed from that mindset, you realize that trying to guilt or shame others is a subtler form of violence. And becoming aware, I have found I do not tolerate others guilting or shaming me.
Entertaining the idea of non-violence is like a letting go of all the shame and hatred and jealousy and fear that has hurt me and caused me to do stupid things and hurt others.
It gives me the courage to say what others won’t, to see what others fear to look directly at, to feel what others push deep down inside themselves in order not to experience.
It allows me to think my own thoughts and not have society push its beliefs on me.
It is the freedom Ayn Rand promised without the callous disregard for others.
It is realizing that love is the greatest experience in the world and that you can have it always. You never have to put it aside in order to hate. Never.
It’s like breaking free of an addiction like smoking and realizing that breathing fresh air is always better than a nicotine rush. Always.
It is hearing the birds and the rustle of leaves and realizing you are part of it all. That you don’t have to distance yourself from the world, don’t have to build walls against it, because you are not at war with it.
It is never feeling like you are not good enough, because you reject the idea that anyone has the right to pass that kind of judgement on you. Ever.
It means no one has the right to tell you how to think, how to feel, what to say or who to be. You don’t have to be what others ask or expect you to be. You only ever have to be yourself.
Non-violence means I never have to get angry with someone just because they’re angry at me. I don’t have to match their ugly emotions with ugly emotions of my own. I never have to lose my composure or control over myself. And that, my friend, is true power, because I dictate how I react to others rather than allowing others to control my inner workings.
Imagine that your one obligation towards your fellow humans is to relate in love. Love. Not obedience. And love, remember, is the greatest joy. Love is not obedience. Obedience is a perversion that often masquerades as love.
The flip side of this obligation to relate to others with love is that you expect the same in return. You don’t have to rationalize it when people treat you poorly. You can try to understand them and forgive them if you wish, but you are under no obligation to accept such treatment.
A proclamation of non-violence is the greatest threat to power, because it is a direct rejection of the ideology of the powerful and the tools they use to retain power.
Oh, I know what happens to people who preach non-violence and work for peace. I’m familiar with the story of Jesus. I know how Gandhi, King, Lennon, and others met their fate. Those who justify violence murder those who embrace non-violence because they fear them, and rightly so. They are even a greater threat to the powerful than those who try to take from them. Whom, by the way, they also kill.
How far can one usefully walk down the path of non-violence? I’m not sure, but I’m 100% convinced that it is much further than we’ve been led to believe. It seems the moment you mention non-violence someone brings up Hitler. And yeah, that is a rather powerful argument, but it is an extreme one. And Germany was close to changing the conditions that eventually led to Adolph Hitler’s rise in 1923 by engaging in mass non-violent protests. Had that worked, had more people committed to a non-violent solution to Germany’s problems at that time, who knows how much death and suffering might have been averted.
So on this day when we remember Martin Luther King, let us also take a moment to remember how his embrace of non-violence was able to accomplish so much. Yes, his life was taken from us with violence, but his message was not. It was not a weakness in King, who knew quite well the risk he was taking. Let us never blame the man of peace for the violence wrought upon him. Let the blame for Dr. King’s murder rest heavily on the shoulders of the violent, where it belongs. Let the violent and the non-violent each be judged according to their actions. And let us remember that the full impact of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life has not been fully felt, the story of his life far from fully written. His example shall yet reverberate through history.