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Nonviolence, fighting back without fighting

On the morning of September 23, 1957, nine African-American teenagers stood up to an angry crowd protesting integration in front of Little Rock's Central High as they entered the school for the first time. This event, broadcast around the world, made Little Rock the site of the first important test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision.

Statutes of nine African-American teenagers who stood up to an angry crowd protesting integration in front of Little Rock's Central High as they entered the school for the first time.

As a long-time martial artist and senior instructor, I’ve seen people stumble or argue over the idea of a Peaceful Warrior or “learning to fight so you don’t ever have to.”

There is a balance between inner strength that leads to peace and the inner warrior that honors self and society by being ever ready to prevail against evil with weapons or wiliness.

But there is a type of defense against injustice and the forces of darkness that requires a completely different approach than what most martial artist or combat trained individuals would advocate.

It’s called nonviolent protest. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated it as well as Gandhi and Lech Walesa. The idea is to achieve cultural, social or political goals via symbolic marches and protests, civil disobedience, non-cooperation, and other nonviolent means. (It’s not the same as defending yourself against a rapist, thief, or home intruder.)

The protesters believe suffering for a moment at the hands of the unjust (as being beaten by police or knocked down with water hoses) will eventually awaken and win the hearts and minds of the majority. They are willing to put themselves on the line to improve the lives of all, especially future generations.

The Five Principles of Nonviolence

from Martin Luther King, Jr.

1.  Non-violent resistance is not a method for cowards. It does resist. The nonviolent resister is just as strongly opposed to the evil against which he protests, as is the person who uses violence. His method is passive or nonaggressive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, but his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken. This method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually; it is nonaggressive physically but dynamically aggressive spiritually.

2.  Nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation but he realizes that noncooperation is not the ends itself; it is merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent.

3.  The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who are caught in those forces. It is a struggle between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

4.  Nonviolent resistance avoids not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

5. Nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. It is the deep faith in the future that allows a nonviolent resister to accept suffering without retaliation. The nonviolent resister knows that in his struggle for justice, he has a cosmic companionship.

Here is the Pledge MLK’s followers were expected to take and fulfill when involved with non-violent protests:

1.   As you prepare to march meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus

2.   Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.

3.   Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.

4.   Pray daily to be used by God that all men and women might be free.

5.   Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.

6.   Observe with friend and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.

7.   Perform regular service for others and the world.

8.   Refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart.

9.   Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

10. Follow the directions of the movement leaders and of the captains on demonstrations.

Courage takes many forms. It’s easy to start a fight. And quite frankly it’s easy to end one, too, if you are trained. But to face suffering willingly without throwing a punch back, without hurling insults, without doing anything but allowing the world to witness the injustice — even though you know you could extricate yourself from the situation — well, that’s a unique courage few have the stomach to take.

Would you take this approach and this pledge if you wanted to march or protest against something you considered unjust?


Lori Hoeck


Photo:  Steve Snodgrass

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Betsy Wuebker August 23, 2010, 7:33 pm

    Hi Lori – I’d like to think I’d consider it, but it would be a huge challenge not to respond in kind. Especially refraining from violence of the tongue. You know me! 🙂

  • Lori Hoeck August 24, 2010, 9:32 am

    Hi Betsy,
    It certainly takes a different mindset to refrain from retaliating. The MLK protesters were doing it for a cause they considered greater than themselves — a tough thing for most people to wrap their heads around.

  • Hilary August 25, 2010, 1:00 am

    Hi Lori .. I’d have trouble signing up .. I don’t think I’d stay committed for long enough .. laziness I guess and a wish to get on with my own life .. though I aspire to be more.

    You’ve taught me a lot about holding my tongue, and not reacting to things .. I still need to read your book – and will do .. as life has been pretty ghastly for this year – but now .. the light is at the end of the tunnel and I can settle and put my own foot forward and get on ..

    I think MLK had excellent reason as organisations did in South Africa when I was there .. but I was naive about politics, and apartheid to a sense .. but I’d never treat anyone unjustly personally .. (though that happens and continues to happen around the world in many if not all countries … sadly )

    Good points about non-violence etc .. thanks – Hilary

  • Lori Hoeck August 25, 2010, 9:42 am

    Hi Hilary,
    Responding is always better than reacting!