black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What We Can Learn from Nonviolent Resistance

Even after heralding Dr. Martin Luther King with a holiday due to his impact on civil rights during the 1960s, there still isn’t much hope that things can change without violence. We’re currently still facing conflict in the Middle East with Palestine and Israel. We still have conflict in our streets as well. If it’s not physical violence people believe they can resolve conflict with verbal violence. Even with what Dr. King’s movement accomplished, some people still believe peace is synonymous with the land of make-believe; complete with rainbows and unicorns.

I think we must first define what violence is before we go further in learning the lesson of nonviolence. The common definition of violence is behaving in a way that involves physical force to hurt or kill another person. I feel that this definition isn’t broad enough. I believe a person can exhibit violent behavior by yelling obscenities at another person. If you’re on the Internet, you’re probably familiar with the expression “choosing violence” in which another person takes revenge based on some negative perspective being expressed by another person. In this way, I’d like to expand the definition to any unwanted action towards another object. This is to then say that the restraint of any unwanted action towards another object is nonviolence.

It’s easy to look at this definition as a complete one by looking at violence’s opposite, peace. The definition of peace is freedom from disturbance. This must mean that non-peace, or violence is disturbance, which then means nonviolence is peace. Violence and peace are not and cannot be separated. With this definition, we then know that we choose violence when we disturb another being. I hope this more complete definition allows us to look at our relationships a bit differently. When we are disturbing the peace of someone, whether it be a spouse, a coworker, a friend, or an enemy, we are enacting violence. This goes for any type of conflict you can think of as scale does not matter.

Injustice is a form of violence. The typical response to that violence is revenge. Contrary to popular belief, injustice isn’t notorious with the person who decides to commit a crime. Meaningful injustice occurs with the entities that make the law. Those who are in authority, more times than not, choose violence to solidify their authority. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the government, a teacher, a parent, or a boss. Authority is willing to disturb one’s peace to let us know that it has power over us. They do so even if it means not following their own rules, or the rules change. How does one fight this type of injustice? The best thing you can do is ignore the authority.

So we finally get to Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Why was Dr. King so effective? In his resistance, he decided to use the ideology of nonviolence. Even though the government of the time was legislating laws that restricted the freedom of Black Americans, Dr. King decided not to attack the government. Instead, he decided to ignore these unlawful commandments. To be fair, it all started when Rosa Parks decided to ignore the need to give up her seat to a white man. That was the impetus for what we would see as peaceful marches, peaceful speeches, peaceful sit-ins, and other activities that completely dismissed the laws of the Jim Crow South.

Why Do We Celebrate MLK Day?

Civil disobedience is never a bad thing unless you’re the person in power. It’s very interesting to see governments and organizations posting about Dr. King without acknowledging the fact that he believed one of our moral responsibilities is to disobey unjust laws. That doesn’t just mean from the government, but unjust rules set by all authorities. It seems like during this time, we quote the quotes that align with our agenda rather than the whole that is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

If a person were to actively disobey a rule set by an organization, they’d be fired. If a child disobeys his mother for a rule they believe is unjust, the child will get punished. So when I see quotes and images of Dr. King, it feels meaningless knowing what goes on within the walls of our organizations and institutions. Why then do we celebrate Dr. King on this day and still put up with rules that degrade the wellbeing of people?