Each and every year for seven days straight, we listen to speakers, read passages and watch films about the life and efforts of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. We are reminded of the civil rights movement, nonviolent protest and King’s dream for a better society. In many respects, his dream and model for action has been realized for our society, but what about on the individual level? How can his life’s teachings be applied to conflicts in our personal and daily lives? What does nonviolence mean when you want peace to carry on and fulfill your dream?
Annually on Martin Luther King Day, I watch as many King specials as I can. This year I found myself deep in a very angry and volatile situation with a young person I am caring for. Knowing the distorted pass, I knew responding with anger and loudness was not going to achieve my goal of encouraging this young person to aspire to greater things in life. It was a very bad situation, yet I was dedicated to staying calm and not feeding into the negative energy.
This course of action I have chosen is a practice I have been working on for a while. It is in a state of perfection for any type of conflict with people who are angered, frustrated or hate me because I am who I am.
I have leaned that complete stillness and kindness cuts down and defeats anger and frustration unequivocally with quickness. There is just nothing anyone can say to me, when I meet their mean, rude and nasty remarks with gentle words and a lovely smile.
In watching a film about the practices of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was founded in 1960. I honed in on a scene in which activists were preparing themselves for a sit-in at a local diner that refused service to African-Americans.
Because the opposition’s hatred was so viciously strong, the protesters had to be prepared for the yelling, screaming, spitting and even physical attacks against them without responding in the same manner. They remained steadfast, adhering to the principles of civil disobedience and non-violence, exemplified by King and other leaders of the civil rights movement.
Clearly it took a great deal of courage to stand up against the injustices of racial discrimination and violence. However, on a much deeper level the protesters had to remain peaceful within to face fears in order to achieve their goals and spread the idea of human civility.
The fear of being beaten and murdered was always at the front of the activists’ minds, yet they overcame that fear by keeping their eyes on the prize — the larger picture for life and humanity.
I have been told countless times that I should always be “safe” because there are people who will want to hurt me because I am a transgender African-American woman. I always respond that I am safe and fear no one, and I surely do not fear death and dying.
“Why?” you may ask. It is because I have a larger vision that extends far beyond me as human being. Like King, I believe wholeheartedly in human and civil rights for everyone. It is an idea, a thought and a philosophy that cannot be destroyed, no matter what the cause of death is.
Really, what is the worst anyone can do to you? They can very well be so angry with you, they may spit on you, kick you, stab you, shoot and kill you and then you die. So what! What if? Go ahead take it all the way to the extreme narrative, then what? What else can they say about you other than you died for a justifiable cause with peace and humility in your heart — which is something that will always make your family, friends and all who remember you very proud to have known you.
Yes, a bullet went through his face at the Lorraine Motel April 4, 1968, and King was assassinated, but his words, ideas and dreams were far from annihilation and casualty.
So now that fear has been removed from our lives and we have surpassed the fear of violence, then what? What happens to our enemies, the people we are in direct conflict and confrontation with?
Like King and Mohandas Gandhi’s teachings, a non-violent approach to life will force your enemies to settle down and be humble once they know they cannot defeat you with their yelling voices, flailing arms and harmful weapons. At some point in the process of their violent actions they will see the wrong in what they do as long as you continue to stay poised and do the right thing in the midst of combat.
Let us not forget that the battle for civil and human rights is combat. It is a war, and in war you may very well die.
Yet, in understanding the art of combat, you will know that self-disciplined fighters never gets into fights because they fear the fight. They have practice getting hit, kicked and stabbed, so they already know how the pain may feel and how to immediately return a counter blow. They know just getting shot or stabbed does not mean they will die at all. However, they try their best to avoid physical warfare altogether by being non-combative, because they take the fight seriously and know their skill sets and abilities. Yet they are very much aware that being non-combative may have the consequences of dying.
So what about winning beyond death? Albeit, your goal is to win, not to lose or tie whenever you are in a physical, mental or spiritual fight. What about being so humble, kind, sweet and loving no matter what your adversary does?
In fact, you have already won the battle before it even begins because you have committed yourself to not responding with anger and aggression. There is absolutely nothing your enemies can do. They can never beat, destroy or kill the idea that you have chosen to be peaceful in the midst of struggle, violent behavior and confrontation.
So when they finally do kill and destroy you, they will be confronted with the question of “Why?” They will have to answer why they chose violence over peace, and it will be for their own actions and not yours — simply because you stood your ground and never moved.
In time whether you are physically standing or have passed away, you will always come out of the battle victorious because your principles, ideas and dreams will live on long after your demise.
Year after year, it is always, “I Have a Dream! I Have a Dream!! I Have a Dream!!!” which is often internalized as a societal goal for peace and humanity.
What about our own personalized dreams? How does facing fear and being peaceful factor into this equation?
We may not have fears of violent attacks on our persons, but we may have fears about being accepted, loved, failure, and/or successful. We can use these same tactics to fight these personalized battles as well, by not getting angry just because someone else does not recognize the beauty within us. We do not have raise our voices or flail our arms around just because we made a mistake and didn’t accomplish a certain task. We do not have to give up and give in to degradation and defeatist attitudes all because we have not attained our desired dreams, goals and aspirations.
We can face fear in the thick of conflicts, remain peaceful and calm to weather the storms that surround us, and press on to fulfill all of our dreams. We do not have to fight fire with fire. We can put out fires with serene healing waters. These nonviolent peaceful tactics are tried, tested and proven to be effective tactics. I’m just saying… they brought an end to 100 years of Jim Crow Laws, racial discrimination, segregation and local government sanctioned public lynchings.
So why can these tactics not work in bringing down the confrontational walls in our personal lives? There are many lessons to learn from the works, actions and life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that can all be applied to the larger social, civil and human rights issues. Furthermore we can also apply these lessons on the smaller scale to our personal fears with peaceful actions solely for the purpose of making our dreams our realities.