In Part 1, I said that Dr. Martin Luther King sought not to defeat his opponents, but to be reconciled with them. Dr King said, at the successful conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956: “(T)he end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
There is something deeply radical about that approach to conflict. The website of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change describes the Beloved Community in more detail:
For Dr. King, the Beloved Community was not a lofty utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the Peaceable Kingdom, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony. Rather, the Beloved Community was for him a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.
Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the Earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.
… All conflicts in the Beloved Community should end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.
This was and is radical because it comprehensively challenges practically every aspect of the traditional American character. It seeks cooperation rather than competition, brother- and sisterhood rather than domination of one by another, nonviolence as opposed to the use of physical power. Dr. King again:
There are certain things we can say about this method that seeks justice without violence. It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. I think that this is one of the points, one of the basic points, one of the basic distinguishing points between violence and nonviolence. The ultimate end of violence is to defeat the opponent. The ultimate end of nonviolence is to win the friendship of the opponent. It is necessary to boycott sometimes but the nonviolent resister realizes that boycott is never an end within itself, but merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor; that the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption. And so the aftermath of violence is bitterness; the aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community; the aftermath of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. This is a method that seeks to transform and to redeem, and win the friendship of the opponent, and make it possible for men to live together as brothers in a community, and not continually live with bitterness and friction.
There was a kid in one of my younger brothers’ classes who was a notorious bully, who made the lives of my brother and his friends very unpleasant in eighth grade at St. Dominic School. At a retreat toward the end of the school year, the class was invited to share things in their life that burdened them. The bully — I’ll call him Chris — told a story that none of his classmates had previously known about. It was a story of a father who came home regularly from the bar and punched Chris and Chris’s mother, and was also verbally abusive to them both. And suddenly everyone saw Chris’s behavior in a new light. They suddenly saw him, not as the villain of their fears, but as the frightened, bewildered kid he actually was, who was suffering terribly through no fault of his own.
I suspect that if we Americans dig beneath a lot of the disagreements that divide us, we will find that many are founded on misunderstanding and ignorance, and could best be resolved by listening to one another without judgment. We need to listen to one another’s stories. Whenever I have done that, I have never come away hating someone. I have always come away with more respect for the person I’m listening to.