It’s no surprise that on Monday my social media feed was filled with quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as reminders that it’s one thing to post quotes, but it’s another to attempt to live out his teachings. Like many people, I struggle with the practical applications of practicing nonviolence. At the macrolevel, I don’t think our government can practice nonviolence if we are attacked. At a more personal level, I think we should stand up to bullies which can incite more violence than merely walking away. So, while I aspire to living a philosophy of nonviolence, I struggle with its practical applications.
But today, my social media feeds reminded me that there are ways to practice nonviolence that, while still challenging, aren’t as complex as the ways we usually frame the discussion. Here’s one example:
“I told my friend that I’m emotionally ‘hitting a wall’ and she said, ‘Sometimes walls are there so we can lean on them and rest.'”
What if we understood violence as working harder and harder to push past such a wall. Nonviolence could mean stopping to rest, perhaps to see that feeling as an opportunity to stop, to try something new? Could we start a practice of non-violence by recognizing the need to take care of ourselves.
There was a post suggesting that instead of verbally beating ourselves up with negative self-talk, we work to practice compassionate self talk instead. “Talking to yourself with compassion will give you the grace to manage the challenging situations that you’ll inevitably face in your personal and professional lives.” (See box below for four tips and the citation.)
What if we understood practicing nonviolence as a gift and a practice, we can, and should, give to ourselves daily?
And this from Parker Palmer’s Facebook page last week: “[w]e all have vital local roles to play in restoring democracy—even the best leaders can’t do the job without us. But our task must be done from an inner place of nonviolence. For me, at least, that means a steady search for inner peace, even as I seek ways to bring peace to the world around me.”
What if we understand practicing nonviolence needs to be paired with practices to develop inner peace?
This year the commemoration of MLK, Jr.’s birthday falls in the middle of two weeks like no others after a year like no other. After the almost unimaginable scene of violence in the heart of our democracy and before one of our most sacred rituals, the transition of power, all of the MLK, Jr. posts and quotes remind us of an important reality. There will always be a tension between violence and peace and sometimes it all seems like more than we can cope with. But we can start our practice of nonviolence right now – in our thoughts, our work, our homes. It seems to me a little grace and forgiveness for ourselves and each other is a good place to start practicing nonviolence. And it’s something we can all start working on today.