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. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Becoming more politically active has forced me to really think about some of my core values. First of all, the fact that I'm even able to walk a picket line or post blogs and notes about a controversial issue is amazing in and of itself. I grew up the daughter of a very forceful father. In my house it was either my dad's way... or... my dad's way. There wasn't even a "highway" option. This caused me to be very timid, and try my best to determine where someone stood before expressing my opinion. This approach worked very well when not offending someone was my highest goal.
But now, I've realized that there are causes worth fighting for, things in this world that I find morally repugnant, and issues I cannot keep silent over. This realization brought me to a crossroads. What was I more afraid of, offending someone or living the rest of my life knowing I let injustice persist in this world and I did nothing about it? After much agonizing, the second won out.
I now have a new mission for my life. I refuse to go to my grave without changing this world for the better, or at least... die trying! I know that I am only one person, one voice, and one vote, but when joined with other like minded people (even in small groups), change can certainly be made. One of my all time favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
When Jay and I have a house, I want to put this quote on the wall above our main door with the lead in... As you leave this sanctuary, "Never doubt...” . I want myself as well as our children to always remember that it is their responsibility to make change happen and not assume others will do it for them.
Now at the same time that I've been finding my voice and the courage to raise it against what I feel to be injustice, I've also become more convinced that, although characterized as a "fight", our struggle should be waged with respect and consideration for those on the other side. Our message should focus on attacking deeds and actions not people. Come to find out, I've been preaching and practicing nonviolence all along without really knowing what it was.
I've gotten some push back from this stance from both sides of the Equal Marriage fight recently. Although most people would certainly reject the use of physical violence, they might have no problem hurling a verbal personal attack at their opponent or harboring judgment for them.
Two recent examples illustrate that this falls on both sides of the issues. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog about celebrating Freedom to Marry week stating my reasoning for supporting Equal Marriage. I know that I have conservative Christian friends and freely opened the comments for discussion. Well, one of my friends from “the other side” ;-) was wonderful. She posted thoughtful, respectful comments that truly came from her heart, and we were able to have a nice, pleasant, open minded discussion regarding the issue. Although neither one of us drastically changed the mind of the other, I think we both came to a deeper understanding of the reasons why the other feels the way she does. Another friend however, handled the situation in a very different way. I came away from the encounter feeling extremely attacked, judged, condemned, and offended. It was like I must be stupid if I didn’t see things her way. She probably felt that she was calling a spade a spade, and doing what she felt she needed to do, but it only pushed me farther away from her way of thinking and left me fighting to see her as anything but my adversary.
I posted another post a few days later that was really to rally the faithful to action. A friend “on my side” posted something that I knew would be offensive to my friends “on the other side”. Indeed I was right. Soon there after a friend I know to be a conservative Christian posted a comment indicating that he was very offended. In a private conversation with my first friend, I explained that his comment although rightfully his opinion (and even one that I agreed with), was hateful in spirit and did nothing to forward the cause or illicit meaning dialogue. It took a couple of emails, but I eventually made a strong enough argument that my friend posted an apology for the attack on the people involved in this issue instead of attacking the issue itself. My second friend accepted the apology and there followed a meaningful dialogue.
These encounters really made me think hard about the way I treat people in a debate, and the importance of nonviolence in thought as well as in deed. I must fight the instinct to see those who do not agree with me as my enemy, my adversary, ignorant of the “truth”. Even in this issue of Equal Marriage which I am so passionate about and feel that it is truly the denial of civil rights, I must see those on the other side of the fence as my fellow human beings, whose rights and opinions have just as much right to be heard as mine. I must approach them in a spirit of understanding instead of confrontation. It reminds me of the yoga greeting of Namaste which means, “The light in me acknowledges and honors the light in you.” Regardless of if you are my friend or not, whether we see eye to eye on an issue or not, the same light that is in me, is in you and must still be honored.
Now this doesn’t mean that I give up fighting for what I deeply feel to be right, it simply changes the way I approach people in thought, word and deed. As human beings, we tend to surround ourselves with those who think like us. And as we do this, it’s easy to see those who do not agree with us as “the enemy”. But as we create friendships with those with whom we disagree, it forces us to see their humanity.
And that is what will lead to true and lasting change!