"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
No wonder it is that scholars ranked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" the greatest American speech of the 20th century. Like Lincoln at Gettysburg, King in only a few minutes changed the course of history. King spoke a truth so profound that it encapsulated the best of America, humanity and the Bible.
While King drew inspiration from Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh, an earlier exposure to spiritual justice was the Bible and people like Moses, Elijah and Isaiah. Then, of course, there was the quintessential bleeding-heart peacemaker and justice activist, a poor boy from the back country of Galilee, who greatly inspired and encouraged King.
Today, many of us only look at Rev. King for his civil rights activism. We don't pay enough attention to his nonviolent peacemaking. Here are his six principles of nonviolent activism as given by The King Center:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
Nonviolent activism takes guts. Just ask Jesus or Gandhi. Or any of many, many martyrs over the centuries. Violence fears nonviolence for only love overcomes hate. Violence and hate come from the old parts of the brain. Love, reason, and active nonviolence originate in the frontal lobes, the most recently evolved part of our brains. We can only move beyond anger, fear, hate and violence by engaging our frontal lobes in what they do best: reason, love and plan.
Hence, the intent of nonviolent activism is not merely to be right, or to defeat our opponents, but instead seeks peace and mutual understanding. Jesus called it "loving your enemies." After all, as Jesus said, anybody can love and take care of their own kind.
Thus, nonviolent activism is about higher principles as opposed to partisan politics. Nonviolent activism is about peace and justice triumphing over war and injustice, not defeating and humiliating people.
Nonviolent activism further holds that even when our enemies try to destroy us that hate is not the answer. Only love conquers hate. "Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate," said Rev. King.
Love and truth are far more powerful than hate and violence. That is why oppressors always have feared someone who had the love to tell the truth to the people and the courage to speak the truth to power. In the deep south, for example, whites could well relate to blacks wanting revenge. But with a person who was full of love and a sense of justice and who spoke the truth like a prophet in the tradition of Amos, the oppressors trembled, for they knew Moses proved far more powerful than Pharaoh.
Which brings us to the last of Rev. King's principles: the belief that the universe is just and is concerned about us. God is good would be another way of saying this. Life seeks to do what is right. Use nature or evolution or whatever word rocks your rhetoric. King held that it is important in being a nonviolent activist to have trust in the basic fairness and goodness of something larger than ourselves. Such trust has inspired Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Gandhi, Nhat Hanh, and King to strive to make real the eternal dream of peace and justice here on earth as in heaven.