Reverence for the wonder of the life that is before us. And there’s more to it than the general skill-set we call “emotional intelligence” – though that’s a key aspect. Reverence for the wonder of the life that is before us is what I would call a spiritual virtue, and it is cultivated through spiritual discipline. Nonviolence is a spiritual commitment that comes from a spiritual understanding.
The heroes of nonviolent social change pictured at right -- Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Aung San Su Kyi – weren’t just effective political organizers who happened to tell their followers, "Oh, and, by the way, no hitting." They were at the forefront of social change that we call nonviolent because they each had the emotional and spiritual grounding to understand the essence of violence as in the heart.
Before Gandhi, massive opposition to a prevailing government was called revolution if it succeeded and rebellion if it didn’t, and it involved weapons and fighting and lots of violence. Such a scale of opposition had never been nonviolent.
Martin Luther King picked up Gandhi’s ideas and brought them to the civil rights struggle in our country. Again and again he urged his followers and all those working for justice to set aside the impulse to riot, to burn, to strike back. Keep the righteous energy of anger without letting that anger make its home in hatred. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us:
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi continues the tradition of nonviolent social change. Her work for democratization of Burma led to her being under house arrest for 15 out of the 22 years. The Nobel Committee, in awarding her the peace prize, cited her nonviolent struggle against the oppressive military junta as “one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades.”
Each of these three was or is deeply grounded in a religious tradition:
- Gandhi was practicing what his Hindu faith teaches of ahimsa: the principle that all living things are connected and form a unity requiring respect and kindness.
- King was practicing what his Christian faith teaches of love – often referenced as the Latin caritas, or the Greek agape: a spiritual love. Agape, as one theologian puts it, is “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.” King took to heart Jesus’ words, “love your enemy,” and his faith tradition taught him to answer hatred with love.
- Aung San Suu Kyi is practicing what her Buddhist faith teaches of karuna (compassion), and anatta (no self). There is no self separate from others; each of us is all of us; we cannot truly want to hurt them.
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This is part 2 of 3 of "Nonviolent Social Change."
Next: Part 3: "Social Change Through NVC"
Previous: Part 1: "To Hear Each Other with Compassion"