NONVIOLENCE IN A NUTSHELL

Mam 4, 2020 KELLEY KIDD This blog has already referred to nonviolence several times. There will be a strong emphasis in the blog’s future on nonviolence as a way of life and as a strategy for social, political and economic change.

In a previous posting I have tried to tell the story of how i became committed to nonviolence through the life nd death of Martin Luther King Jr. I have not explained what I mean by “nonviolence”. Dr. King explained his concept of nonviolence on numerous occasions. He usually laid out five interrelated elements. I will follow that prescription here. At some points I will also add my own observations about the origins and the continued relevance of these fundamental elements of a way of life. My purpose is to provide a necessary continuing reference for future analysis and narrative.

  1. The first principle of nonviolence is to resist the wrong. Nonvioence is certainly NOT a philosophy for those who shrink from confrontation. Nonviolence is confrontation. Each of us can probably associate this principle with historical or personal experiences of such behavior. Association for Bible readers may be the prophet Nathan confronting the KIng David by leading him into a trap in which he uses David’s own thoughts to show the King that he has committed murder, and a particularly odious murder at that. He then shows the King that he himself has correctly implied that this murder leaves the King subject to the death penalty. No violence is employed of course. But the prophet is fighting the King’s evil directly, and with great skill and courage. Gandhi is certainly the Old World’s most successful practitioner of nonviolence– and the person from whom King derived is concepts of nonviolent strategy. He insisted that his followers be willing to confront and actively oppose the evils of British imperialism and exploitation.
  2. Second is that nonviolence risks violence from he opponent but with the firm decision not to either initiate violence or to retaliate. The freedom riders and sit in demonstrators of the civil rights movement come to mind. They were defying both evil laws and probable beatings from those who were angry about the demonstrators. Of course they refused to either yield or to fight back when attacked. Thoreau’s famous refusal to pay a tax, a refusal which led to a night in jail, is another older incident that illustrates the principle. I have always believed that the civil rights movement eventually lost its transformative power when riots and tough guy posturing became visible aspects of the African American push for inclusion and dignity.
  3. Third is that the nonviolent resister aims his or her actions at the behavior he opposes, not at the person who is exhibiting or enforcing what is opposed. Someone said this one sounds too much like “Hate the sin, not the sinner”, a slogan frequently used by people who actively persecute gays and lesbians. But nonviolence is a strategy for changing the oppressive use of power by those who are not in power, but seek to change those who are. So the similarities with the slogans of oppressors are superficial, not the reality of the two very different things. The users of the “love the sinner” language are usually trying to sugar coat hurtful use of authority against the dignity and rights of the “sinner.” On the other hand the nonviolent movement is aimed at changing the behavior and abuse of authority of the powerful. Nonviolence simply cannot work if the practitioner fails to avoid demonizing the people he differs with. The reality of this principle is driven by the goal that the practitioner is pursuing: conversion and reconciliation, not defeat and humiliation.
  4. Four is just that. goal. The object is to win the opponent to your position, to become a friend of justice, instead of oppression. Mandela exemplified the strategy by showing a friendly and even loving attitude to his white oppressors, who later acquiesced in his party becoming the dominant political party in South Africa. Dr. King was fond of pointing to India as a nation governed by Gandhi disciples who nevertheless were voluntarily a permanent member of the British Commonwealth. And the civil rights movement did not seek to subject the white folks who had been the oppressors. Instead the movement aimed at sharing power and dignity on a par with and in loving partnership with those same white folks.
  5. Five and finally the willingness to endure suffering without hate and without yielding to despair. That willingness obviously is grounded in the belief that the future belongs to justice and the end of the suffering. Pessimism about the final outcome would produce either despair or habitual masochism. Nonviolence ultimately depends upon the practitiner’s deep faith that he is doing the work of God or the similarly strong faith that ultimately history is so constructed that “the long arc of the universe bends toward Justice.”

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