Principle 5: Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence

Violence is not only a physical act.  The old saying that, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” may be one of the biggest lies ever told.  Mental and psychological scars from verbal and emotional violence can hurt more and affect you for a lot longer than physical acts of violence.

In fact, every year there are about twice as many suicides as there are homicides.  We spend so much time and resources trying to combat physical violence, while the rampant amount of internal violence and oppression largely gets ignored.

There are many forms of internal violence in our society.  From bullying in schools to the treatment of “minority” communities to internalized oppression to unhealthy personal relationships, all of these forms of violence has deep impacts in our society.

Another old saying goes, “hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  Forgiving someone who has crossed you in the past is not something you do because it’s a nice thing for that person, it’s something you do for yourself, so that you can move forward.  Because holding onto hate and anger is something that hurts you more than the person you hate, and is an act of internal violence that you do to yourself.

Dr. King reminded us that nonviolence is not only a refusal to shoot your opponent, it’s also a refusal to hate your opponent.  If we are driven by anger, hate and a desire for vengeance, those emotions will be reflected in the change that we create.  Nonviolence is a commitment to respond to conflicts through understanding, love and true justice.

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