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MONDAYS WITH PATMEI | Nonviolence is the courage to love your enemy

While I was taking the introductory course on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nonviolence Principles and Practice last week taught by Dr. Paul Bueno de Mesquita in Bahayahay, Tugbok, Davao City (read my previous column on how it came to be), I felt warmly cocooned in this safe bubble with fellow pilgrims from different parts of the country. I experienced love.

That sounds so “airy-fairy” — nonviolence, cocooned, bubble, pilgrims, love — but the experience has been so grounding and so necessary in my life’s work and in my literal survival as a human being.

As Paul said, the choice is not between nonviolence or violence. It is between nonviolence or nonexistence.

Fellow pilgrim, Malou Tiquia, shared her reflections on the seminar we both attended in her Manila Times column last week and she struggles with the practical application of nonviolence principles in Philippine politics, where everything is “always a zero-sum game.”

I understand too well what she meant having spent a good (or bad?) 30 decades of my life in Philippine politics working with controversial politicians who are not really known for their nonviolent ways.

Without even realizing it until I got out of that toxic environment, I was organizing the phases and chapters of my life according to the seasons of national and local elections in this country since I was 21 years old. I knew my “peak seasons” based on the election calendar and I marked my life’s milestones by remembering under which administration they happened. Passed out and diagnosed with “benign intracranial hypertension” (yes, it’s a thing)? Oh, it must be the Estrada administration.

As a young adult, I learned on the job that Philippine politics, and most especially elections, are violent. So the third Kingian nonviolence principle of “attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil” is something most people operating in politics would find ridiculous. Because attacking your enemy is the norm. It is expected and not doing so would be perceived as a weakness.

According to Dr. King, the nonviolent approach is actually the stronger, more courageous way because it analyzes the fundamental conditions, policies, and practices of conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities (which probably explains why they attack the people instead because addressing the social conditions would be harder to do).

He explained that nonviolence “does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his (or her) friendship and understanding…It is the evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the person victimized by evil.”

What struck me about this explanation is the “victimized by evil” part. The “evil-doer” is not characterized as evil per se but as someone merely influenced by the forces of evil. These forces of evil are injustice, inequality, oppression, and all forms of dehumanization.

So doing evil is actually a sign of weakness. Because doing good is our default mode as human beings. And doing evil means there’s a system malfunction somewhere along the way influenced by an undesirable and harmful condition that corrupted the evil-doer somehow.

Throughout history and based on the stories we share from different cultures, a common theme is the battle between good and evil. The hero is always the one doing the good thing and the hero’s enemy is just called the villain (not another hero). A villain is described by Cambridge Dictionary as “a bad person who harms other people.”

All villains in the stories we hear have interesting backstories. They all used to be fine and nice and good before a tragedy happened that made them retaliate, seek revenge, and hate the world enough to inflict violence upon it. Thus, “victimized by evil.”

Dr. King said: “It is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe.”

The hero’s journey is always about overcoming obstacles and temptations to become a better, stronger hero compared to before the journey started. And the hero struggles with inside and outside forces. He or she deals with inner conflicts as well as battles enemies that try to influence and overpower him/her. That is why we have phrases like “succumbing to the dark side” which signifies that the hero has weakened and surrendered to a state that is undesirable.

The advice of Dr. King when this happens is: “the nonviolent resister must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe.”

And so the hero must rise above the darkness. We know that the hero falling is not the end of the story. It’s only the middle. The hero undergoes a transformation and acquires more strength to overcome the evil forces. Because good always triumphs over evil in the end. We all come back to our natural state of grace — as human beings who love and are beloved.

For those raised as Christians, they would relate this to what Jesus said: “to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

Politicians hearing this would say, “I am not a saint, nobody is perfect.” Yes, nobody is perfect, but nobody needs to be evil, too.

Do we still wonder why politics is seen as dark, dirty, and dysfunctional if surrendering to evil forces is the default mode of those who are operating in it?

Which is why the first Kingian Nonviolence Principle is: “Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.” Because the hero “confronts the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.”

As we contemplate on choosing our leaders for the 2025 elections — and they are already competing for our attention now with all the attacking and the hating — let us look for those nonviolent heroes who, through their words and actions, are restoring community, resisting injustice, and courageously confronting evil not by retaliating with hate, but by the power of love. The love for all of humanity.

Nonviolence is the natural and normal state. We survived as a species all this time because of nonviolence. Because we learned how to cooperate with one another and figured out how to peacefully live together. It is violence that is unnatural and abnormal.

We only learned violence when we got corrupted and turned away from our true nature. We become violent when we are weak. It is time that we unlearn violence and relearn love. ###


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