I think there is a lot of misunderstanding around what peaceful resistance or non-violent resistance is.
There’s some perception that meeting violence with peace makes you look weak but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When done right, peaceful resistance completely destroys the opposition.
I think the key difference is in one’s own confidence and self-respect.
When you see someone being passive and they’re begging someone not to hurt them, or they’re trying to placate the other person, that is not peaceful resistance. That does come across as weak. And that’s what we’d call being a doormat; letting people “walk all over you.”
But when someone has the attitude of no matter what you do to me, you cannot break me that is a lot of power. When someone remains self assured in the face of oppression, it changes the world.
You can see the bullies becoming agitated. The more calm their enemy is, the less in control they feel and there’s nothing a bully hates more than to not feel in control. For many people, the reason they have weapons is to feel in control. A person who is not intimidated by their weapons or their threats is terrifying to them. That person gains all the control.
There’s a fantastic example of this in the movie The Long Walk Home. It’s about the Civil Rights movement in America. Two young black boys are on a bus when they start being harassed by some white boys the same age. The older of the two black boys (who are brothers) gets them off the bus, not responding to the taunts. But the other boys follow them.
Out in a park the white boys start hitting the older brother and he does not say anything and he does not hit back. But every time they knock him down, he silently stands back up and stares them in the face.
Over and over he refuses to give in to their bullying and every time he struggles back up no matter how much they knock him down. Fear begins to grow in the eyes of the white boys. They realize that there is nothing they can do to break this boy and it scares the hell out of them. Finally they run away.
Certainly getting hit sucks, but the ability to not surrender to it is incredibly powerful.
Even more so when you have an audience. If you can stay strong against force greater than your own in front of others, it sends a real message. The person using force on you looks like a horrible human being and people lose respect for him, hurting someone who is not fighting back and does not have weapons. You gain all that respect and you will likely be looked at as a martyr, to be praised and idolized.
When someone rattles you, gets under your skin, you start responding on their level and you both look like idiots. It happens all the time with Internet trolls. Once you start screaming back at a jerk on the Internet, you lose a lot of your own credibility. This is “sinking to their level.”
Plus, if people continue to respond to violence with peace, eventually the oppressors HAVE to change tactics because the violence is not producing any result.
I don’t know who I would be if faced with a situation of oppression. I might be the doormat, though I hope I would be the confident person resisting. I don’t look down on people who are not strong enough to be that person, but I have enormous respect for those who have maintained non-violent resistance in the face of oppression.