THE SIX “KINGIAN” PRINCIPLES OF NONVIOLENCE
1: NONVIOLENCE IS A WAY OF LIFE FOR COURAGEOUS PEOPLE. It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and uses the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
One common misconception about nonviolence is that it is a weak, passive philosophy. But Kingian Nonviolence is about taking a stand against injustice, making a commitment to look injustice in the face and confront it with the power of unconditional love for humankind. This takes courage, and to do it without resorting to violence takes not only courage, but practice and discipline, com-passion and a deep desire for justice. During the Civil Rights Movement, all the participants joined in marches and rallies, knowing that the police might attack them with police dogs, fire hoses, and beatings. But the movement was committed to nonviolence: they could not strike back. Nonvio- lence is a powerful, active force.
To be nonviolent does not just mean that you are not violent, but that you confront injustice wherever you see it. Large social injustice is the result of smaller, accumulated injustices. There is no injustice that is too small to be confronted, and we cannot wait until violence occurs to practice nonviolence. We cannot practice our principles only in activist spaces, or assume that injustice doesn’t happen in progressive circles. Being com- mitted to nonviolence means committing yourself to the role of peacemaker. It means that when you see violence or injustice anywhere, you are committed to acting or speaking out against it. True non-violence is more than a strategy or a tactic. It is a way of life.
2: THE BELOVED COMMUNITY IS THE FRAMEWORK FOR THE FUTURE. The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.
The Beloved Community was Dr. King’s vision for a reconciled society where people of all races, genders, cultures and generations are living in unity with each other, including those we now consider to be our enemies. Our goal is not to defeat our enemies, but to win them over; only then can we create a truly reconciled world. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And that includes injustice to “the other.” The problems of society stem from the fact that, lacking understanding of the interconnectedness of all peoples, we think there truly is an “other.” But as long as any group is suffering injustice, it will ultimately affect every- one on some level. We will not find true positive peace by killing or incarcerating our enemies. We will not find true peace by deporting, intimidating, or ignoring our enemies. We will find the Beloved Community only when we win them over.
3: ATTACK FORCES OF EVIL, NOT PERSONS DOING EVIL. The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict instead of reacting to an opponent or to his personality. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not individuals. Dr. King said with regard to the Civil Rights Movement and segregation, that the issue was not between white people and black people, but between justice and injustice. When we attack personalities, it makes reconciliation more difficult, since attacking people often escalates a conflict. And by attacking people, we oftentimes don’t even address the root cause of the problem—their behavior. You can lock up as many drug users as you want, but at some point you have to deal with the issue of addiction, and the reasons people are drawn to drugs. We can get rid of a bad president, but unless we fix the government on a fundamental level, we will not see real change.
In 1971, a Stanford Psychology professor named Philip Zimbardo randomly assigned six students the role of prisoners and another six the role of prison guards, and let them act out their roles. Within days, the prison guards—who were regular Stanford students just days before—began humiliating and abusing their fellow schoolmates. Some of the abuses were similar to those seen at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. The experiment had to end a week early because of the trauma that the students were experiencing. Zimbardo concluded that in extreme situations, the environment can take away a per- son’s ability to make ethical decisions. In our own world, the problem is not the people, but a culture that accepts violence as a way to make change.
4: ACCEPT SUFFERING WITHOUT RETALIATION SO THAT THE CAUSE WILL ACHIEVE ITS GOAL. This helps both the movement and the individual grow in spiritual as well as humanitarian directions. The moral au- thority of voluntary suffering for a goal commu- nicates the concern to one's own friends and community as well as to the opponent. It can give you strength and inspire others to join. In order to achieve a larger goal, a person often has to struggle, but suffers through the struggle, understanding that accepting it brings one closer to the goal.
When 650 marchers were beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during Bloody Sunday, those images went out over the newswires and awoke the moral conscience of a nation. Soon, people were driving to Selma in droves. Within two days, the number had grown to 2,500. And two weeks later, 8,000 marchers began the long walk to Montgomery, the culmination of a campaign that resulted in the Voting Rights Act. When we are able to remain nonviolent in the face of violence, we paint a very clear picture of who is right and who is wrong. It brings injustice to the forefront for all to see.
5: AVOID INTERNAL VIOLENCE OF THE SPIRIT AS WELL AS EXTERNAL PHYSICAL VIOLENCE. The nonviolent attitude must permeate all the aspects of a campaign. Specific activities must be designed to help maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign. Violence is not only a physical act; the old saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” may be one of the biggest lies ever told. Mental and psychological scars from verbal and emotional violence can hurt more and affect you for a lot longer than physical acts of violence.
In fact, every year there are about twice as many suicides as there are homicides. We spend so much time and resources trying to combat physical violence, while the rampant amount of internal violence and oppression largely gets ignored. There are many forms of internal violence in our society. From bullying in schools to the treatment of “minority” communities, internalized oppression and unhealthy personal relationships—all of these forms of violence have deep impacts on our society.
Another old saying goes: “Hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Forgiving someone who has crossed you in the past is not something you do because it’s a nice thing for that person; it’s something you do for yourself, so that you can move forward. Holding on to hate and anger is something that hurts you more than it does the person you hate, and it is an act of internal violence that you do to yourself.
Dr. King reminded us that nonviolence is not just a refusal to shoot your opponent; it’s also a refusal to hate your opponent. If we are driven by anger, hate and a desire for vengeance, those emotions will be reflected in the change we create. Nonviolence is a commitment to respond to conflicts through under- standing, love and true justice.
6: THE UNIVERSE IS ON THE SIDE OF JUSTICE. The fundamental values in all of the world's great religions include the concept that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. As much injustice as there is in the world, anyone who has ever worked for justice and liberation has had faith in this principle. It will not be an easy road, but those of us working for change must always hold on to this faith.
With all the investment we make in violence, for entertainment as well as in real life, it should be no surprise that we see so much violence and injustice in our society. With all this investment in violence, it is our karma that we live in such a violent society. We need to invest in peace, and invest in justice. If we invest more time, more resources, and more action into peace and justice, we will ultimately begin to see those returns.