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January 22, 2015

The Passive-Resistant Parent

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Earlier this week, our nation paused to celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s revolutionary approach to raising the national consciousness has been dubbed “passive resistance” — but there is little passive about it. One of the greatest misunderstandings about a nonviolent approach is that such a stance implies weakness, or inaction. This was the confusion about Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek, Gandhi’s nonviolent protests in South Africa and India, and Dr. King’s program of civil disobedience here in America. All could come across as promotion of weakness, of laying yourself down and letting others beat you down further. To refuse to retaliate could only be the work of cowards.

Similar questions are frequently asked about the ScreamFree approach to parenting: “How can you just sit there calmly when your kid misbehaves? They need to know you mean business! They need you to be a strong parent!”

Of course we agree wholeheartedly. And so did Jesus. And Gandhi. And Dr. King. People do need to know that you mean business. A principled commitment to nonviolence and nonreactivity is not a weak stance formed in passivity. It is instead a very active, very passionate response to the conflict at hand.

Gandhi was absolutely furious when 1500 men, women, and children were gunned down by British troops for having a peaceful gathering. Dr. King was absolutely full of a passionate desire to fight social injustice. And each of you has a burning desire to change the misdeeds of your children, and revolutionize your relationships with them. But such passion has to be disciplined, has to be contained and directed in order to have the actual effect you seek. Fire without boundaries is an out-of-control disaster, while that same fire contained and directed fuels the world.

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