Non-violence seems like such an easy concept. The difficulty, of course, is in the application. As I think about the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I honor not only what the Civil Rights Movement did but also King’s underlying philosophy which still rings true with wisdom for us today, decades after the Civil Rights Movement.
MLK described non-violence as “…a willingness to be the recipient of violence while never inflicting violence on one another…” (You can listen to him speak on the topic at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K1j9FaH2io)
Non-violence is not agreement with or consent for a system or an act. It is not avoidance of injustice so as to minimize conflict. It is a methodology, a way of opposing injustice that does not create more violence.
Decades later, we live in a world where there is still injustice and systemic oppression even if the manifestations have shifted. Human trafficking, modern day sex slavery, sweatshop labor, rigged financial systems, oppression of women in various parts of the world, and unsustainable stripping of ecological systems are a few.
Closer to our daily lives are the kinds of interpersonal violence that many students directly experience. Bullying, holding grudges, blaming, victim blaming, retaliation, cyber stalking, domestic violence, threats with intimidation and vicious gossiping are all too common. These may not be structural systems of injustice, but they are acts of violence that inflict unnecessary harm on others.
We have all been recipients of violence. How do you choose to respond?
Perhaps the “natural” reaction is to respond in defensiveness with more violence. When we sense injustice toward us, we tend to feel anger. But if we hold onto and then act on that anger with violence, our own cause can be overshadowed. There are reverberations which harm both parties, leaving both less free.
If we want a world that is less oppressive, less cruel, less unjust, then non-violence urges us to willingly receive the violence that comes to us while refusing to inflict that same violence on another. We are to oppose injustice and violence with steadfast determination but do so in a manner that does not use the very method that we are protesting against.
“There is no road towards peace. Peace is the road.” –Ghandi
(To hear MLK speak on Ghandi’s influence on him, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDpd0oM2x_E)
Brooks Zitzmann, LMSW