In an earlier post in the JTN manifesto series, we explored one of the foundational earmarks of the nonviolent ethic: the power of love to overcome violence. This ideological affirmation has implications in reality, and that brings us to the next point we affirm:
Offering creative, life-giving love in response to any degree of violence or hatred.
Really, this point gets down to the nitty-gritty.
- What are we doing in real life to express this love we say has the power to overcome violence?
- Do our actions generate life, or do they perpetuate toxicity and death?
This is an affirmation that asks something of us. It asks, "What kind of person will you choose to be?"
On this point, we choose love in response to any degree of hatred or violence because it is the small, incidental choices that begin building in us a character worthy of greater acts of love.
We must begin where we are.
The journey toward nonviolence begins with a single step.
I remember one of the first times I tried putting this into practice.
I was driving in a car with someone who was, in all honesty, not a lot of fun to be around in that moment. No matter the topic discussed, their response was negative, sarcastic, or just generally unhelpful. Any attempt to spin a positive outlook by me on any broached subject was met with immediate dismissal.
I felt at a loss in that moment.
And my immediate inclination was to spew exasperation and frustration all over the conversation, once I reached what felt like my upper limit of patience. (Truthfully, that has been my reaction on more than one occasion before.)
But in that moment, I allowed myself to take a longer view.
Or rather, to take a longer look at the person sitting beside me.
Somehow, I was given the grace to see that their pessimism and fatalism were really symptoms of something larger: a great degree of disappointment in their circumstances. This colored their view of everything else they saw.
And somehow that produced a new wellspring of patience in me, as well as a willingness to demonstrate love. (This goes back to that curiosity bent that produces compassion we discussed in a previous post.)
Instead of returning their negativity with more than a bit of my own ("I'll show them how difficult they are to be around right now!"), I turned toward their heart and sought to address its tender places.
This doesn't mean I invaded their space or trespassed emotional boundaries.
It means that I listened what what they were saying.
And instead of telling them why they shouldn't feel that way, I mirrored back that I heard their concern. (This goes back to the compassionate listening we've also discussed previously.)
I was surprised to find the conversation turn a corner.
Something came disarmed in them.
I have my suppositions about what happened.
- Perhaps they felt seen in a way they hadn't in a long time.
- Perhaps they felt safe because I extended patience, acceptance, and care, rather than immediate judgment or rejection.
- Perhaps they simply no longer felt a "me against them" tenor to the conversation, but rather an "us, together."
Whatever the reason, it gave me greater faith in love's power over all that carries the stench of death.
Granted, circumstances are not always this simplistic, nor are the outcomes always this positive.
But we must begin where we are, and adopting a nonviolent ethic of love means choosing to move toward another with generative and creative energy in moments that normally invite us to fight back, dismiss, reject, judge, ignore, or altogether avoid.
So, what about you?
How have you chosen love in the face of hatred, negativity, or violence in your life? What was that choice like for you? Did it make a difference at all?