Actions are based on love (Principles of nonviolence 7)

This is a part of series on principles of nonviolence. The ten principles are listed here.

Closely linked to a profound respect for humanity and the separation of persons from their behaviour, the motivation for nonviolent social change is love rather than hate. Gandhi believed nonviolence was the law of love and that it involved loving one’s enemy (Gandhi, 1958; Ritchie, 2001). He believed, “it is no non-violence if we merely love those that love us. It is non-violence only when we love those that hate us” (Gandhi, 1958, p. 86). Gandhi went as far as suggesting that hate was the subtlest form of violence (Burgess & Burgess, 1994, p. 22).

Because King saw nonviolence as an expression of Christian love (King, 1958, pp. 84-87), love played a major role in his practice of nonviolence. He argued that love did not mean “we abandon our militant efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid our nation of the incubus of racial injustice. But we need not in the process relinquish our privilege and obligation to love” (King, 1967, p. 65). For King, love was not an ineffective, sentimental liberal interpretation of love (Moses, 1997, p. 220) but instead it was a love based on a “tough mind and a tender heart” (King, 1963, pp. 10). A tough mind was characterised by “incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement” leading to a “firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment” (King, 1963, p. 10). But without a tender heart, a person is hard-hearted and never truly loves, and hard-hearted people lack the capacity for genuine compassion being unmoved by the pain and afflictions of others (p. 13). King (1958) drew from his Christian faith to describe this love as agape.

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community… Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of mutuality. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. It doesn’t stop at the first mile, but it goes the second mile to restore community. It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community. The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community (p. 105).

Again Sharp (1973d, pp. 633-5) argues that although love is not necessary for nonviolence campaigns, it does increase the likelihood of success. He argues that it is unrealistic to expect people who have experienced great oppression and violence to love their opponents but strategically it is “desirable for nonviolent actionists to minimize hostility and hatred and to maximize their goodwill for members of the opponent group while firmly continuing the struggle” (p. 635). White (1999e), the founder of Soulforce, describes loving his enemies as the most difficult spiritual task he ever faced.

How can I love those conservative Christian leaders whose words and actions help cause lesbians and gays to be rejected by their families, ex-communicated from their churches, evicted from their apartments, fired from their jobs, hunted down and hounded out of the military, denied their basic human rights and civil protections, harassed, assaulted, maimed and murdered? (para. 46).

At the same time, he argues that we will never “win the minds and hearts of our adversaries until we learn to out-love them” (M. White, 1999c, para. 23) and urges Soulforce activists to be guided entirely by the principles of love, and to confront untruth with love and without a trace of physical, psychological or spiritual violence (M. White, 1999e).

Adapted from
Stuart, G. (2003). Nonviolence and youth work practice in Australia. Unpublished PhD, University of Newcastle, Newcastle.

The reference list will be available after principle 10.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
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