Mohandas Gandhi was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India's independence from British rule. He inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
Ghandi wrote: “I learnt the lesson of nonviolence from my wife, when I tried to bend her to my will. Her determined resistance to my will, on the one hand, and her quiet submission to suffering my stupidity…., on the other, ultimately made me ashamed of myself and cured me of my stupidity in thinking that I was born to rule over her and, in the end, she became my teacher in nonviolence.”
Even Ghandi, one of the many spiritual teachers of nonviolence, had conflict in his personal life, and had to find a way to cope with and learn from it. Conflict is a natural normal part of the human condition. If we are in any kind of relationship—at work creating a product, in a congregation developing a budget, in a friendship deciding on where to go eat, we will be in some sort of conflict at one point or another. How we approach conflict, how we manage our emotions while in conflict, and how we bring our spirituality into the conflict determines whether the conflict will ultimately be resolved in a healthy and satisfying way. I believe there are ways of resolving conflict without the damaging effects of anger or rage; I believe in a faith-centered, nonviolent way of resolving conflict that includes the co-creation of a resolution using mind, heart, spirit, and humility.
This is from The Road Less Traveled by psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck:
“There are two ways to confront or criticize another human being; with instinctive and spontaneous certainty that one is right, or with a belief that one is probably right arrived at through scrupulous self-doubting and self-examination. The first is the way of arrogance; it is the most common way of parents, spouses, teachers, and people generally in day-to-day affairs; it is usually unsuccessful, producing more resentment than growth and other effects that were not intended. The second way is the way of humility; it is not as common, requiring as it does a genuine extension of oneself; it is more likely to be successful…”
Before I go more deeply in discussing nonviolent resistance, I think it is important to acknowledge that political and social conflict can feel so much bigger than day-to-day conflict. And that so many of us are burned-out, fatigued, and overwhelmed with the state of our culture and politics right now. So many of us are asking, “What can one person or even a small group of people possibly do to change societal norms or state laws?” In our world right now, there is so much hate, resentment, polarization, it is challenging to even decide where to put our energy or what to resist. We only have so much political power and physical, mental and emotional energy. There are so many issues, just here in Florida that cry out for resistance—restrictions on Woman’s Reproductive Rights and LGBTQ Rights. Making gun ownership easier, without even requiring any kind of training on safe use of a firearm. Restricting access in schools to certain books and to the history of African Americans in this country. Restricting medically necessary supports for the transgender community. Where and how do we use nonviolent resistance to confront these issues? It is easy to get frustrated, angry, scared, overwhelmed, even paralyzed by so many issues.
“Yes!” Magazine reporting Fellow Melissa Hellman considered what civil disobedience at Standing Rock teaches us:
“Resistance is bolstered in our divine identity that resists the seduction of the darkness in ourselves and in the temptation and lies that a proto-fascist system might throw at us. Resistance at Standing Rock is a spiritual and moral act as well as an environmental and political act…
We can be part of an organized mass movement of non-violent protest grounded in the deepest spiritual principles of compassion, modeled on Martin Luther King, Jr, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and Polish labor activist, Lech Walesa. Such a resistance that holds a high moral ground is blessed by invisible powers and has an extraordinary capacity to shift the situation.”
As a minister, I am called to speak with both a prophetic voice—telling you and those in power the truth as I see it—and a pastoral voice—giving comfort to those who are suffering as well as hope for what the future might bring. I do not avoid speaking truth, whether it be in front of political leaders or in a congregational committee meeting, even as I understand that the truth may be difficult to hear, even if the truth may result in conflict. But speaking truth must be tempered with a humble spirit, my own self-reflection, and a willingness to be open to engage with and listen to those to whom I am speaking. Just telling them that they are wrong, or that they are racist, or that they are fascist will not result in them changing their hearts and mind. By being willing to understand how they came to their truths and made their decisions, I can begin a process of communication that can result in change. Nonviolent resistance isn’t always about rallies and petitions, it is also interpersonal engagement for change.
Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote:
“If someone with courage and vision can rise to lead in nonviolent action, the winter of despair can, in the twinkling of an eye, be turned into the summer of hope. Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being. Nonviolence, which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain. It is a plant of slow growth, growing imperceptibly, but surely.”
“Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will.” I want to repeat that because I believe that in order to participate in nonviolent resistance nonviolence has to be braided into your character, your thoughts, words, and deeds. Nonviolence is not just outwardly focused on the issues we are facing in society. It’s also inwardly focused on how we are with ourselves, with those we love, with those in our communities and congregations, with those around us as we live and move through life. I will admit right up front that I am not perfect at being nonviolent in all that I do, but I aspire to it always, in my thoughts, words and deeds. Being nonviolent does not means my life is without conflict—whether in my marriage, in congregational committee meetings, or in working with those in political action networks or non-profits who are trying to make this world a better place for all. It does mean I think, speak and live my truth with peace in my heart and compassion for all those with whom I come into
Recently I spoke with an African American minister and the South Dade Branch of the NAACP president. I was talking with them about allyship on issues that were coming down from Tallahassee. Without hesitation I spoke on the many issues that I felt passionately about, including transgender rights. I also said that I and many of the people I knew in the congregation and in other groups that I am affiliated with would look to them, the African American community, to take the lead on issues of importance to them. Both the minister and the president of the local NAACP said that transgender issues would be issues that not a lot of African American churches or members of the NAACP would easily be able to rally around. On the other hand, they didn’t want other people’s rights restricted. After much discussion and periods of silence, they said they might be willing to help with transgender issues if they believed that we would stand beside them when they fought for this issues that were important to them—we being, white people, LGBTQ people, and women. Neither the minister nor the local president of the NAACP Branch felt like there had been a history of non-black people standing with them when they were in need, when they were fighting for their rights. They told me trust would have to be built. I assured the local NAACP president that I would rally those I knew when he was in need. I have joined the NAACP and plan to attend some of their witness events. As our conversation came to a close, I hoped that he would find a way to be an ally to some of the issues that I felt passionate about. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no. I believe that I had planted a seed and trust that will have to be nurtured by my following up on my words with actions. Who know how this see will grow? I believe its potential is unlimited. This interaction we shared, with peace in our hearts and a willingness to engage, is as much nonviolent resistance as holding a Black Lives Matter Rally.
My friends, having this Black Lives Matter sign in our church and on our property, even if it is covered up
and having this LGBTQ flag in our church and flying in front of our building, are acts of nonviolent resistance. I’ll tell you a story about a member of my congregation in Naperville, IL who had the same LGBTQ flag in front of his home in a very conservative neighborhood. You know a lot of Make American Great signs. This was his own act of nonviolent resistance. Over time some of the people who lived near him, asked him about his flag and he gladly talked about it and why it was important to him. Some of his neighbors began to display LGBTQ flags. Eventually in his conservative neighborhood, there were five, six, seven flags waving in support of the LGBTQ community. All of them practicing nonviolent resistance.
We, as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, practice nonviolent resistance. Our Unitarian Universalist Principals call us to treat everyone with respect, with compassion, with equity. On our cars are bumper stickers like Hate Has No Home Here and Abortion is Health Care. We educate ourselves on the issues facing the marginalized, the handicapped, people of color, women, children, the homeless, returning citizens. We sign petitions, attend rallies, write letters to the editor, hold discussions. For over 3 years we have worked to Decenter Whiteness in our governance at this church. I have preached on nonviolent communication and modeled nonviolent communication and behaviors both in the congregation and in my public initiatives. In the short time I have been here, even with the extreme impedances that COVID and quarantine that shut down this congregation, we have built relationships with allies, including interfaith and intercultural groups. Some of us have volunteered at Planned Parenthood and have talked to state and local legislators. These are all ways of embodying nonviolent resistance.
How can you express nonviolent resistance? How can you hold space for authentic discussions and sharing of truths with those in your sphere of influence? I can’t answer questions for you, but I bet you have some ideas. How will you make a positive difference, resisting racism, and any other oppression here in Miami, while keeping a humble, compassionate heart and an open mind, ready to engage with people who may be different than you? These are the questions that each of us must ask ourselves and reflect on before we work to stem the tide of oppression here in Florida. And I can’t wait to see how you answer them.