Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bygone Days: Whatever Happened to Nonviolence?

Have you ever wondered what ever happened to public dialogue that lifts rather than depresses? Were you aware of the moment in time when attempts for connection and mutuality denigrated into fights reminiscent of middle school lunch rooms?

I think about this a lot.

The conversation always goes something like this.

 "What you are thinking and feeling is wrong. It's going to be the downfall of society if you keep thinking and feeling that way. You need to think my way. It's better than your way."

"Oh yeah?" says the other person. "Well let me tell you all the ways in which your thinking and feelings are wrong. Mine are actually right, and if we keep on going down the path you are going on we are all going to be doomed."

"You are so wrong! I'm better than you. Don't you get it?"

"You just don't get it. I can't believe how frustrating you are. Why can't you just listen to me?"

It starts to all feel a little bit like this commercial, only not nearly as cute.

What does this accomplish? Both sides of any dichotomy are entrenched in any number of value based viewpoints of the world. Those values are important to the speaker and appealing to their intellect to see it another way isn't like to help. After all, they are trying to appeal to your intellect to see it another way. Are you listening or changing your mind?

What can one do? Our not so distant history is replete with examples of another way -- a nonviolent way. In his 1964 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. 
If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

So how exactly is a conservative Christian to set aside rejection and love someone who is a gay activist? How is a political liberal to set aside revenge against a political conservative (or vise-versa). Clearly conversations that sound something like a middle school lunch room conversation aren't going to help us rise up and transform ourselves from this mess.

Might the non-violent movement of the sixties and seventies offer us some answers? Might they offer a way for any individual to clearly show the travesties inflicted upon them without reducing themselves to inflicting travesties upon another?

I think so. Do you?

A few last thoughts from Martin Luther King's acceptance speech in Oslo.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him orally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. 
I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. 
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is strong than evil triumphant.

What do you refuse to accept? Perhaps if just one of you walked the nonviolent path with a friend, they would be encouraged to do the same. They  might walk that same path with two of their friends, and so on, and so on, and so on...

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