You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
The power of reconciliation almost certainly seems like a pipe-dream to man. We have been so steeped in the philosophy of retaliatory justice that it is often nearly impossible to conceive of a society based upon anything else. Rarely do we stop to ask who benefits from this system – the government organizations that must exist to enforce the violence it calls justice – or whether it is working or not to deter crime and establish peace. But can a system that thrives on violence and can only exist through the violent extortion of monies from the nonviolent, non-criminal private working sector actually be labeled successful? How is it justice for a criminal to steal something from you, be locked up for it, and your money stolen by the government to pay for the criminal’s food, housing, and entertainment while in prison? Didn’t you just get robbed twice instead of once? That isn’t justice. Its highway robbery disguised as justice.
Now, a society based on reconciliation doesn’t mean disagreement becomes a thing of the past. Rather it means that society will be so open that if you disagree with another you will have no reason to fight him or her over it, after all there will be no State regulation that forces you to follow only the path it has decided you should walk. You will be able to go and follow your vision to either fruition or failure. In either case you will not be embittered at others because you had your opportunity, and that is all that can be asked for in a world where success is impossible to guarantee. Instead of trying to take everything we can and hurting each other as much as we have been hurt, we turn towards healing suffering, binding up the hearts of the wounded, helping the blind to see, mending the broken, and creating peace.
One of my favorite examples of reconciliation in action and its power to transform hearts and minds and heal society is Daryl Davis. The man is a hero. Of all the people today who call themselves civil rights activists, Davis is the only one carrying forth the work of Dr. King. Davis is a Black man who has convinced 200 Klansmen to give up their robes, abandon their ideology of hate, and to leave the KKK. He hasn’t done this without preaching at them, holding protests, or even trying to change their minds. He has done it by traveling the roads of reconciliation, by becoming the friend of the very racists who hate and despise him. You can see a picture of Davis with one of the 200 Klan robes (among other KKK paraphernalia) that he has been given by former Klansmen and Klanswomen who left after becoming his friend.
His odyssey began when he was young. As a child living abroad, he didn’t quite understand what it meant to be black in America. When his family moved back to the States, Daryl joined the Boy Scouts. His earliest memory of racism is when he was walking in a parade with the Scouts and people started throwing things at him. At first he thought people were throwing things at the Scouts, but as the adults rushed to surround him and protect him, he realized that he was the only one being attacked by this spontaneous act of hatred. It dawned on him that the problem wasn’t that these people hated the Scouts, it was that they hated him, the only black kid in an otherwise all white Scout troop. From this point in his life he developed a desire to answer one question that he simply couldn’t answer on his own, “How can you hate me without even knowing me?”
As an adult he became a musician and began touring the USA. As he did so he began to meet actual white supremacists and realized that now, as an adult, he had the opportunity to answer his unanswerable question. So, he began talking to them. Not yelling. Not screaming. Not canceling. Not even arguing. Talking. He discovered that when you talk with people, you find things about them that you have in common with them. The more you talk, the more you find in common. As you find things in common with one another you build a relationship with one another. That relationship turns into friendship. As these racists became his friend, they found themselves questioning what they believed and many of them, ultimately, realize that what they believed was wrong and changed. As the man himself explains, this is at the core of what he does and why it works:
“I never set out to convert anybody and I still don’t say that I’m out converting people. The media says that. What I am is the impetus for their own conversion. They come to the conclusion that there’s a different way to think and believe based upon information that they have received or the friendship that has developed with me and they turn themselves around. So yes, I’ve been the impetus for many to get out of that ideology. Initially, it was curiosity on my part. Now the impetus has expanded. I never thought anyone was going to change. I just simply wanted to know ‘why?’ How can you hate me when you don’t know me? That was my initial quest. When people began changing based on conversations I would have with them, over time they would renounce that ideology and we would become friends. The reasons why I continue doing it is because I see the need for it. Our country is so divided and granted, everybody is not going to change but if one person changes, it can change a generation.”
Former KKK Grand Dragon Scott Shepherd explained how his relationship with Daryl and his encounter with people of multiple races sparked change within him:
“I was forced to take a cold, hard look at myself and find out what the true problem was. The true problem wasn’t with black people or other races, the problem was me.”
There is too much to Daryl’s story to include here. To learn more about this man, you can watch the documentary about his life called Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America as well as many of the in-depth interviews with him that can be found on YouTube. Daryl, and the many other stories like his (such as the story of Michael Kent and Tiffany Whittier which can also be found on YouTube), illustrate the principles of nonviolence and the power of love to transform the lives of men and women and bring about reconciliation- to create healing and unity.
Reconciliation operates under many names. Dr. King called it the Beloved Community. But whatever name you call it, the reality of a society based on peace, liberty, and prosperity is within reach if we follow the path of peace and refuse to engage in or revert to the ways of the animal kingdom. And a society based on reconciliation is one where racism, nationalism, hatred or bigotry of any kind no longer have any power or purpose, because the purpose of those is to justify having the power to force one’s views on everyone else and that power will have been eliminated along with the thing that makes such a thing possible- the State.
Does that seem impossible to you? I understand it if it does. After all, you’ve been indoctrinated all your life through school, media, and entertainment to believe that the only solution to society’s woes is brutality and violence. You’ve been specifically indoctrinated to think peace was impossible in order to justify the existence of and your submission to the most violent organization of all, the government. In response to his critics who asserted the supposed impossibility of his positions, Gandhi said this:
“I justify entire non-violence, and consider it possible in relations between man and man and nations and nations; but it is not ‘a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness’. On the contrary, the non-violence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate a mental, and therefore a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him, and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him but would uplift him. It may be urged that this is an ideal state. And so it is.”
We often speak of idealism as if it is something impossible, utopian in nature, and therefore not worth even trying for. But the truth of the matter is that the exact opposite is true. Believing that the State -a society based on the concept that brutality, theft, and violence will create anything other than oppression, discord, division, and hatred- is utopian nonsense. The pragmatist and idealist both realize the power of nonviolence not only to win individual battles -such as those currently taking place between the police state and its oppressed peoples in the streets of America today- but also the power of nonviolence to make oppression and rioting both things of the past. The ideal will not be achieved overnight, obviously. But it can begin right this moment. If we do so we will take the first steps not merely towards hacking at the branches of the tree of oppression, such as addressing racism, police brutality, drug laws, immigration reform, etc. but towards creating a better society altogether. If we really want to achieve our goals, there is simply no other way to achieve them. And if we really want to achieve them then we must begin to actually pursue them instead of returning to the State like dogs to our vomit. We must recognize that the State is not merely an outside invention imposed upon us, it emerges from the violent and hateful parts of our souls. It is a parasite that corrupts, weakens, sickens, and ultimately kills everything it feeds from. To counter it we must embrace the light within and follow the ideals that create the world we wished we lived in and not the ones which have created the one we currently inhabit. Doing anything else would be insanity.
A better world doesn’t have to wait until a tomorrow that never arrives. We can begin building it today by following the path of transformation laid out in the Principles of Peace- nonviolence, noncompliance, exposing the State, overwhelming the State, dissolving the State, and reconciliation. And these aren’t just society wide actions. They must take place within us as well. You will never be able to organize others if you cannot organize your own home. You will never create peace outside of you unless you follow the ways of peace inside of you. We must expose, overwhelm, and dissolve the State within us so that our examples will serve as ones to follow instead of ones to abhor. As we do so, everything else will naturally follow without compulsory means, forever and ever.