To read of the various expressions of nonviolent resistance inevitably raises the questions, “How were they able to keep going despite wave after wave of opposition, which sometimes included murder, and always included degradation? How did they maintain such poise in the face of such poison?”
There are two responses which emerge from the nonviolent movements themselves. The first is that sometimes they broke under the pressure. Every nonviolent leader I have read acknowledges this. Sometimes the suffering was so severe that even those committed to nonviolence caved in to depression and/or to retaliatory actions. This is not to denigrate the validity of nonviolence, but rather to point to the immensity of the opposition. The sad reality is that sometimes the abuse was more than some could bear.
But there was a second response to the questions–the response which characterized nonviolent movements as-a-whole. The adherents believed they were moving with the flow of the Universe. A Hindu looked at Gandhi and said, “He has accepted the law of nonviolence as certain as the law that governs the fall of Newton’s apple.”
Similarly, Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the practice of nonviolence in the civil rights movement had “cosmic backing” (agapé), which created the vision of a world “where all men live together…and respect the dignity and worth of all human personality.”
E. Stanley Jones stepped back from particular nonviolent movements and summarized the endurance of those involved, “Inward poise can only come when we are sure that the sum total of reality is backing our way of living. Inner poise is an outgrowth of an assurance that Reality approves of us, sustains us, and guarantees our future.”
Jones used the image of fire to describe it and wrote, “The fire must be the fire of the Spirit.” He wrote an entire book about it, ‘The Way to Power and Poise” (1949)–the same two words he used to describe Gandhi in his book, ‘Gandhi: Portrayal of a Friend’ written just one year earlier (1948).
Nonviolence endures suffering because those who practice it believe from the core of their being that by manifesting the fruit of the Spirit against opposition, that they are instruments of God’s peace.