Dancing Alone

“Nonviolence seeks to “win” not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing him that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over him, but to turn him from an adversary into a collaborator by winning him over.”  

     For me, the notion of nonviolence brings to mind people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Dorothy Day, and it easily congers up images of peaceful protests and demonstrations aimed at challenging governments that promote oppressive policies. Monk and social critic Thomas Merton was writing about such circumstances when he penned the above in the late 1960’s, a time when there were bombs aplenty and much blood spilled in our own and other countries – a reality that is, tragically, the case even today.

     The wisdom of a nonviolent approach to life applies not only to the elimination of “bombs and blood,” but also to the resolution of personally combative circumstances. Confrontation with others over disagreements of any sort (think politics and religion) can lead to heated conflict, but when we realize we are trying to win “over him” instead of “winning him over,” argumentation can also be an invitation to engage at a dimension deeper than our differences.

     It may take “two to tango,” but even when the other is unwilling or unable to meet us beneath divisive issues, we can still dance alone; that is, we can choose to respond rather than react. This nonviolent approach to difficult conversations is not merely a decision, but the fruit of having spent time nurturing our soul, lingering and luxuriating in its peaceful environs where the need to be right dissolves into the desire to connect. The portal to this inner “palace of nowhere” is a quiet mind and heart, one not striving for perfection, but compassionately content to simply be the person we are called to be. When we are in sync with our soul, we see and relate to others not as adversaries, but collaborators in the task of building the “Kindom” of God, the web of loving relationships the world is meant to be.

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