Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spiritual warriors or fear-based followers?

Analysts often note that resolve and resiliency are needed to prevail in nonviolent struggles for justice (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000; Sharp, 1973). Are these naturally occurring characteristics or can we identify some cultural factors that tend to produce more resolve and more resiliency?
Some cultures question those who fight, who make waves, who disrupt social harmony. These cultures tend to want peace at almost any price and at times are perhaps the most passive-aggressive in some ways, tending to gunnysack grievances until there is some explosion. When China explodes, it's devastating, and before that they seem to seek to maintain the appearance of harmony. France, on the other hand, is bubbling over all the time and only in the most marginalized neighborhoods (e.g. North Africa immigrants) are there paroxysms of social upheaval. Intercultural experts note that social harmony is a high value in some cultures and not so much in others. Resiliency is affected by the perceptions of conflict management styles and outcomes.

Another factor that tends toward more or less resiliency in a particular society is its intergenerational ties, strengths, or conflictual weaknesses (Seedsman, 2006). In cultures where great respect is shown for elders, resiliency tends to be greater. This is not necessarily because the elders have a corner on wisdom and certainly not because they are more talented than youth, but because this characteristic tends to make human resources more available to the community for all to share. These ties will weave a much stronger social fabric able to withstand setbacks, oppression from an external power, and even many years of apparent defeat.

We do not admire the warrior for her ability to kill, even in a violent military or quasi-military setting. We admire her because she is willing to die for us. This is why nonviolent warriors--those who imbue their preparation with a fighting but respectful spirit--are admired as much as soldiers. Name an African American Vietnam War hero (pretty silent......). Name a Civil Rights hero (MLK, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Lawson and on and on). These were people who went nose-to-nose with terrorists using only their spiritual resources, and who grew their community bonds as well as building bridges to other communities through actions that were so obviously spiritually grounded in goodness. They didn't need to beg for support; their actions were seeds that grew the support organically and swiftly.

There is also a religious mandate for nonviolence in some traditions, usually quite tiny compared to the megachurches. This mandate can help intracommunal resilience if the mandate is systemic, as it is with Quakers, Amish, and the various religiously pacifist Anabaptists. But if the mandate is akin to Leo Tolstoy's paradigm--basically, "God says be nonviolent or go to hell," it may not contribute so much to the resiliency needed to endure long struggles for justice, for policy change, or for protection of some valued status quo.

In sum, gratitude, hope, and nonviolence arrived at by kindly persuasion and example will tend to have strategic value; nonviolence based on fear is not conducive to strategic development.


Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Seedsman, Terence A. 2006. "Keynote 2. Viewing Participants as Resources for One Another, Communities and Societies: Intergenerational Solidarity Toward a Better World." Journal Of Intergenerational Relationships 4, no. 1: 23-39. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 17, 2014).

Sharp, Gene (1973). The politics of nonviolent action: Part three. The dynamics of nonviolent action. Boston: Porter Sargent.

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