MLK, Nonviolence, and Communication

Today in the U.S. is the holy-day each year we celebrate and honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., his nonviolent approach to social change calling society towards the soaring ideals enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence of freedom and equality for all. Dr. King was a tremendous light shining out from a long lineage going back to Mahatma Gandhi in India, transcendentalist philosophers, and many of the greatest leaders and spiritual teachers of history. 

“Nonviolence” is not just a political tactic. It is a “soul force,” a courageous and compassionate stand in the face of what seems to us unjustly unequal, oppressive, and violent. It is the force of love meeting and transforming what appears to not be love. 

How do we bring this spirit of nonviolence into our communication and conversations today, where on all sides of issues the other side can seem dangerous and wrong? 

Many around the world now are doing this, in myriad ways, as we meet the growing threats and challenges we face. The way I have found is to seek to hear and understand each other where we don’t agree. If you are speaking and I am listening, then I ask myself, can I understand you even though I disagree, perhaps very strongly disagree? And can I do this in a way that you feel my understanding? Then when it is my turn to speak, can I express what is true in me in a way that doesn’t demand or try to convince, that simply asks you to understand my experience even if you disagree?

I have found that doing this can take great fortitude and courage, the greater the differences between us that are disturbing and, at the core of our beliefs, frightening. It is the willingness to move towards rather than away from what angers and scares us in others, moving towards with an open mind and heart while staying deeply rooted and connected with our own experience of truth and reality.

Are we not each individual and evolving streams of life’s emergence in relationship with itself?

As we meet in these differences that divide us, it is also possible to connect in the underlying commonalities that unite us. At a deeper level, are we not all part of the same wholeness and oneness? Aren’t we all formed out of the same energy of this living beautiful planet, and of our galaxy and the universe?

There is a way to use language and awareness that connects us with this commonality and allows us to be moved by universal care for one another and the desire to cooperate. Through awareness we can translate from thinking and language that triggers our fight-flight-freeze survival system of violence to language that returns us to empathic connection and compassionate action.

Thank you Dr. King for the incredible example and inspiration you gave us of this possibility and a path to reach that mountaintop and that dream.