“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.” [Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World.”]
Martin Luther King was unconvinced of the power of nonviolence (or “loving the enemy”) until he was forced to live it during the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott. Angry whites bent on preserving segregation were in the majority and had behind them the entire local political power structure and the force of law. But his followers walked and shared rides and refused to be cowed by threats or jail. They also refused to fight back. It took many months but they prevailed without resorting to violence of any kind, even though it was inflicted on them.
In mediation Sig and I sometimes see opponents who cannot believe the other person even has a heart, much less one that’s capable of change. Tragically, sometimes these folks are family members. But a soft tone, an acknowledgement of the other’s humanity, a sincere attempt to understand the other’s viewpoint even if one disagrees, can work miracles.
As Rev. King discovered, the first miracle is in the heart of the one wronged. A “victim” who does not back away from seeking justice– but refuses to seek revenge– is empowered with a new dignity. A person who will not hate has already won, regardless of the outcome. This is the attitude that makes true reconciliation possible.