by Kazu Haga, Kingian Nonviolence Trainer
Founder, East Point Peace Academy
Reprinted with permission from the author.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting anything that goes against love.”
Those words by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak of a love that is powerful, and the campaigns he led could be described as militant. But can the power of love and nonviolence ever be described as “aggressive” in a non-harmful, life affirming context?
One word can often evoke different meanings for different people, and certainly some would argue that “aggression” by definition equates to violence. Yet the dictionary offers multiple definitions of the word “aggressive.” Many of them associate the word with violence, while others describe the word as “making an all-out effort to win,” “boldly assertive and forward,” “vigorously energetic,” or “an investment…. that seeks above-average returns by taking above-average risks.”
The idea of “aggressive love” in the context of such a violent society may be interpreted as inherently violent. But the type of “aggressive love” that harms is not true love at all. It is a deeply misinterpreted idea of love. It is the “power without love” that Dr. King spoke of.
As the levels of violence increase in our society, our responses to it – nonviolent and grounded in love – have to increase in order to bring things back into balance, back into justice. The higher the escalation of violence, the higher the escalation of love and nonviolence. The more extreme the violence, the more extreme our love must be.
And we live in a world with extreme levels of heightened, aggressive violence. So what does a proper, appropriate response grounded in love look like?
In extreme situations, love can be extended in a way that may be aggressive, in the sense that the recipient of that force may not desire it. It may even cause temporary harm. But the intent is not to harm; the intent is to utilize the power of love to stop the immediate harm, to heal and to bring about reconciliation.
If someone we love is struggling with an addiction, and that addiction is causing harm to self and to others, the community may come together to force an intervention. The intent of the intervention is to help, to heal, to transform. The forces driving the intervention are love, care and compassion. We may choose to hold this intervention even if the recipient may not desire it. We may do it with assertiveness, with a certain fierceness and boldness, because that may be the only way that the person we love will be able to accept and hear our love. It may be viewed as aggressive love, yet the intent is to affirm life.
If you witness physical violence in the community, you may choose to intervene and break up a fight. An in order to do so, you may have to use physical force to restrain people, causing temporary harm. Your actions may have to be aggressive. But you are taking action to protect life.
Many social movements have used tactics that at the time were described as aggressive, radical and militant. When the lunch counter sit-in movement began in the early 1960s, the actions taken to desegregate the lunch counters were unwanted by many, and hurt lots of businesses – including those owned by individuals sympathetic to the movement. Yet the intent was not to harm business owners, but to change an unjust social condition. Because of the aggressive violence brought on by segregation and racial hatred, the leaders of that movement were called on to use aggressive tactics.
Dr. King used to talk of building a “nonviolent army” and said that his goal was to build a movement that was “nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots.” His goal was to shock people, to counter extreme violence with extreme love, to force justice when the forces of injustice were not willing to listen, to remind us that love is not weak nor anemic. True love, Agape love, can be powerful, forceful, assertive, militant, and even at times, aggressive.