I recently read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, which was written in response to a written statement of public concern issued by a group of white religious leaders of the South. In it King described his rationale for non-violent demonstration in relation to the unjust segregation ordinances in place at the time. He defended his participation and the action of those protesting in no uncertain terms and made a number of interesting points about societal evolution that got me thinking about the nature of relationships and the responsibilities of the individual participants in those relationships, be they work-related, school-related or more intimate in nature.
In his defense of “why now”, King pointed out that there is a time for waiting and a time for direct action. He felt direct action was warranted because the underlying tensions inherent in the situation were unlikely to be resolved due to a lack of visibility. He saw non-violent demonstrations as a means of raising awareness so that a resolution could then be negotiated. They were a means to an end.
I wonder how often in the life of the individual or in the course of managing one’s relationships the underlying tensions are kept deep below the surface? It’s easy to do, and there are many techniques for doing it. Just a few I can think of are: denial (“That couldn’t possibly be true, you must be mistaken!), distraction (e.g. getting angry when the issue comes up or diverting attention à la “look, there’s a circus!, etc.”), resignation (“You can’t fire me, I quit!), accusation (“I wouldn’t have to deal with this if it weren’t for you or that thing!” The said thing is about such approaches is that they never, I repeat, never resolve the issues. In fact, they tend to compound them.
I am a firm believer in the fact that there is a right timing for every action. Living life effectively is as much a matter of timing as it is anything else. To be sure, you cannot simply wait for everything the resolve in your life; neither can you force everything to happen. There is a sweet spot in between, where the factors are aligned for resolution, that is, for the underlying tension to come to the surface and be transmuted into a solution.
You are better off being prepared for when the time is right and a process of self-purification often precedes the big event. As the tension slowly (or quickly as the case may be) rises to the surface, it may very likely bring unresolved factors in the heart or mind along with it and those elements can be dealt with as soon as they come up.
The only way to deal with such elements is through humility, honesty, and a willingness to forgive or be forgiven. You have to acknowledge them, often in the presence of others who will provide agreement with the new standard being set. Once acknowledged, these previously weighty matters typically become weightless and as a result, easy to move out.
If you don’t allow them to come to the surface, you risk re-submerging the tensions, which has the same effect as sweeping dirt under the carpet when you’ve been asked to clean the floor. It eventually trips you up and makes things worse!
One of the best things you can do to help those around you to deal with these tensions is to provide the steady pressure of righteousness. Righteousness in this sense performs the function of non-violent demonstration, that is, it raises that which doesn’t belong in another to the surface. By not agreeing or reacting to the elements in others that are inconsistent with either love or truth, or as King put it, “eternal law”, we provide a safe place wherein that which doesn’t belong can be looked at for what it is and released into the abyss of nothingness from whence it came.