Kingian Nonviolence – Attack forces of evil not people doing evil

This weeks principle may take some unpacking for many of us, maybe especially for those committed to nonviolence who might have rejected ideas of evil and hear ‘attack’ as violent. I’m grateful for the encouragement to start where I am and explore my current felt sense and ideas around these words…

For me ‘evil’ is tied up with the idea of ‘bad intention’. As I grew up the focus was on naming (and sometimes shaming) the intention behind an action, and on admitting my actions were ‘bad’, rather than focus on hearing the impact. For some of us the word ‘evil’ brings up concepts of fixed right and wrong, of bad actions and bad people, and associations with religion and authority.

Similarly while in ‘attack’ there could be ideas of violence, there is also a strength and conviction, with the object of this being the forces (structures, beliefs, systems, habits), and not people. This is an active and proactive strength, finding the energy and courage to do the work that needs to be done to reduce harm.

Something like “dismantle and upgrade systems and institutions doing harm, rather than blaming individuals” lands more easily in me in this moment. AND there still seems something valuable about inquiring into my relationship to these words, maybe reclaiming them with a new understanding. As I think about systems and beliefs that lead to harm, systems that really don’t meet the needs of many, and that actively oppress, might that be a new understanding of ‘forces of evil’?

I loved Roxy and Cathy’s unpacking of this idea during 50 days for peace, at the same time as encouraging people to find the words that resonate for them, and allow others to choose differently. And so from there, in words that speak to you, how you might complete this sentence?

I want to find the strength to attack forces that [do what] by [how].

Some things coming up for me…

  • “I want to find the strength to dismantle systems and structures that threaten our shared conditions for life, by reimagining ways forward where all can thrive.”
  • I want to find the strength to challenge and dissolve ideas of fixed right and wrong, by supporting groups to connect to their needs and find more creative solutions.”

As we each focus our attention on what matters most to us, bringing the skills and strengths we have, something new and more attuned to needs seems more likely to emerge.

Community and accompaniment

All of this is a lot to ask, especially for those recovering from trauma or still facing oppression and violence. Another key concept from this week is to understand the need for support and resourcing ourselves for the fight . We need to find accompaniment – develop our own capacity to accompany ourselves, and to seek support. We need to find community – to lean on each other and know that we will all have different capacity to show up in different ways at different times. We need to find what resources us – coming from gratitude, time in nature, time to rest, music, friendships, pets, touch, whatever helps us reconnect and recover.

Personal and systemic

I’m so grateful too for reminders to notice both systemic and personal layers in this. There can be a tendency for some of us to focus on the personal (especially with an NVC lens), and miss the systemic. If a person is talking about pain related to the systemic, there might also be personal pain, but to go only to the personal can be painful, and also not feel safe if there is not consent.

I remember several times in working in homelessness partnerships people who had experienced homelessness talking about the injustice around housing and support, and anger around how people are treated for not being in work, and sometimes the focus has gone to their personal circumstances. I’m grateful for this clarity, to discern the personal and systemic, and be aware of the level someone is speaking at – an edge which I am still learning to work with.

Systemic change

In this intersection between the personal and systemic there is opportunity. Systems are created and maintained by repeated behaviours (including compliance and silence), and systems are changed by new behaviours. So what might nonviolent action that changes systems look like in the contexts we are in?

Kathleen brought in research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J Stephan that points to the success of nonviolent resistance, and some of the attributes needed…

  • A large and diverse population of participants sustained over time
  • Capacity to create loyalty shifts in groups that support current systems/institutions
  • Creative imaginative methods of resistance
  • Organisational discipline to face direct repression without going to violence or collapse

There is much to unpack in all of this, and I’d love to spend more time pondering all of this with others as we head into whatever comes next.

Up next – Principle 4: Accept Suffering without Retaliation for the Sake of the Cause to Achieve the Goal >