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Hate cannot drive out hate Hate cannot drive out hate
by Edna Nelson
2009-01-15 07:45:51
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The ultimate weakness of violence
is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate....
Returning violence for violence multiples violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not invent racism, nor did he resolve it. What he did do was pose the question of racism so that it might be answered. Racial divisions in the US did not start with the civil rights movement nor did they end with its victory. It is a new type of racial awareness that had been awakened by Dr. King, a sense of humanity behind race, spiritual and whole. Dr. King presented a racial awareness that goes above race and into the hearts of the people that is what will ultimately do the job of eliminating racial issue. 

As a preacher Dr. King spoke to the souls of his listeners, to their higher callings, to their divinity, as a social activist he spoke to the hearts of his listeners to their humanity, and their compassion. Doing this he inspired the love which people carry in their hearts motivating them to extend his legacy of commitment to equality beyond his death. But unfortunately in those same hearts alongside a commitment to equality is a lack of faith in his message of non-violence.

 Dr. King not only opposed racism as a black man striving for human rights, but also as a person with a genuine hope for true and liberating integration. One of his main ideas was that if we could see each other as people, and treat one another with love we could together overcome all of the injustices in the world.  This message was one encouraging all people, not only whites to look past the color of a person’s skin and into their hearts. In fact almost all of his calls for non-violence were directed toward his black audience.  This commitment to non-violence is the engine behind much of the success of the Civil rights movement.  Dr. King an innovator in the realm of heartfelt activism was able to make straight criticism without offensive anger. He was a man who could present the harsh realities of black life in America while at the same time encouraging blacks not to act out in their anger. He could empathize with anger, but not violence, and was committed to leadership guided by love.

Today the non-violence movement, and acting out of love are seen as washed up ideas. Dr. King’s message of equality persists, and he is essentially remembered exclusively for it. His message of non-violence as a form of action is for the most part lost. As a child I remember imagining black civil rights activists being hosed and beaten by police, and simply putting their arms above their heads, balling up on the ground. I was shocked and had no idea why they didn’t fight. I couldn’t understand; if I were there I would fight. Unfortunately the logic behind non-violence was never explained in those history lessons. It was simply shown as the best thing to do. I don’t think people really understood why the method of non-violence that Dr. King preached was effective in the case of the civil rights movement. At that time adults were grappling themselves with the idea that non-violence could be a solution to other problems or, all. It was almost impossible for any teacher to prove it was a method that worked in general.

My generation was not left without things to be angry about, racism was taking terrible and subversive shape in the form of unfair drug laws and arrests, that and the War in Iraq gave us enough to chew on until Bush’s second term. We wanted to scream, we wanted to jump, we wanted to throw something, and scare the people in charge as much as they scared us. But it didn’t work, the only thing it did was land some of us in jail. Our vision (if any) of non-violence didn’t come so much from humanistic theories as it did from the desire not to get arrested.  The idea of civil disobedience was almost completely lost on us. Maybe it is because the issues we fought were so far away; maybe it is because we simply were never well enough educated on the thing.

My activist peers and I are not the only ones who have missed out. In America today black identity is largely defined by the media within the frame of violence. Non-violence seems like a joke, thus leaving many young kids feeling that they have no choice but engage conflict physically, whether that conflict is in the home, at school, with society as a whole or in their social groups. Looking back on it now, while listening to Dr. King’s speeches my heart feels heavy with sadness at the fact that the message of non-violence could have been better explained to me and many others at a younger age.

 Non-violence is often associated with the stereotypes assigned to liberals and considered a compliant, wimpy or idealist (read: unrealistic) way to face conflict, something only appropriate for those with the privilege not to fight. This is so unfortunate because the ideology behind non-violence is not only a way to deal with conflict but a lifestyle, a way of thinking that helps us preserve our humanity by being able to recognize the humanity in others. As conflicts arise around the world and countries continue to stockpile huge weapons arsenals I wonder how much we would benefit from focusing more on the principles of non-violence.

Although his message of equality has penetrated the hearts and minds of people all over the world, Dr. King’s message of non-violence and humanity has been lost. Rather than understanding we are all people, each with our own story, and each deserving respect, and basic human dignity we persist in looking to the surface of one another, and diverting our gaze from the light radiating from every person. We look at statistics about race, and inequality and attempt to find answers in numbers and in programs that don’t see people as people but members of a demographic. When we are unable to look at the human element of every situation, and our moral responsibility to each other in every situation we are not following in Dr. Kings so valuable footsteps of compassion and commitment to not only equality but also non-violence, honesty, humanity, and teamwork. 

In the coming years, I hope that Dr. King will be reintroduced into the dialogue for solutions on a large scale. He knew how to pose the race question, and gave us a few clues on how to answer it, how could we have so quickly forgotten? I realize that I used the word lost many times, because that’s how I genuinely feel we are if we continue to undervalue a non-violent lifestyle. It is not unreasonable to achieve a new way to share this planet. We just have to try.

    
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Emanuel Paparella2009-01-15 15:38:26
Indeed, Ms. Nelson, when humankind will have learned the lessons of Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King on non-violence, it will have moved out of its turbulent juvenile teen age years into maturity.


AP2009-01-15 20:06:07
And even after learning... we're not so sure if it will evolve into maturity. There's a big difference between learning intellectually and practicing.


Jack2009-01-18 01:38:09

I have noticed that my students used to and my children as well, payed closer attention the quieter I got. I highly respect the value you place, in this article and mentioned by the late Dr. King, that non-violence is not even a last resort. There is much to be said for the schematic he left us; that of a velvet thundering hand.

When almost a whisper is strained by the ear,

it's dwelling is assured
for many a year.


Emily2009-01-21 02:15:35
My friend Chey is an activist, and often talks about activisim being acts of love. While she has been doing this for eight years, she has just begun to find others who truly understand it the way she does. Until she and I began to talk of these things, I never really understood the non-violence perspective and the love and compassion that goes into this. I think you are compleatly correct in the assesment that we were taught that non-violence was the best way, but not why or, more importantly, how to correctly use it. That is what Chey is trying to figure out, and what I would like to figure out in my classrooms.


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