The Third Way: Passive Resistance
Newton’s third law clearly states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. If someone insults you on the Internet, how exactly would you be expected to leverage the emotions associated with your reaction in an adaptive and productive way? During difficult times, we must make a conscious decision to either show resilience by adapting to our present circumstances, or fall backwards into depression. Now, as humans, we define ourselves by our ability to think critically and choose our own actions with full conscious awareness. Some of us are lucky enough to live in a developed world where we are relatively safe from major physical harm from the powerful on a daily basis. In today’s age, often the oppressors are far removed from our present physical world, but may appear on Internet forums, images or news articles we come across daily. How do we deal with truth, trust and safety in this day and age of technological advancement? What can we learn from the past that engages our moral acuities today?
The Era of Jesus
The dynamics of oppressive power used to be much more robust in everyday life. In Galilee, during the era of Jesus, the pre-industrial society dictated much more precarious norms for the Jewish people. This was a time when the upper class consisted of the military, governors, priests, and bankers. There were also peasants and artisans, but no middle class in sight. Why? The contemporary Roman laws permitted the upper class to oppress, to stifle the dreams, hopes, ambitions, and entire futures of the lower class. Most Jewish people of this time never dreamed of traveling more than five miles from their homes, except for a rare pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:14-21). Although many Jewish people were able to read the Scriptures, most of them could not write because of their limited Hebrew, and could not read or write in Greek or Latin.
Roman courts were extremely powerful, and always sided with the dominant class, as judges were not immune to extensive bribery. If the poor fought back, they could be hanged from crosses if soldiers captured them; this type of fatal punishment was known as a crucifixion. The Jewish people had to honor strict rules and hospitality practices imposed among the peasant class. For example, one’s right hand was kept clean and one must eat with it, while the left hand was used to wipe so it was unclean (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:14-21). Those who were naturally left-handed were ordered to conform to the rules - or face ostracism.
Here, we will explore several lessons we can learn about the people from this society, primarily through the teachings of Jesus. Using his lessons on nonviolent protest in the face of an oppressive imperialist regime, we can also learn how to adapt them into ways that are practical for us to use today.
Turn the Other Cheek
One of the familiar relics of the time is the phrase, “turn the other cheek”. This was a teaching from Jesus, who explained that if someone should strike you on your right cheek (a superior), it would be characterized as a backhanded slap with the right hand towards one’s right cheek. As such, being slapped this way was the way the ruling five percent of the population (such as a landlord, bank lender, judge) asserted their dominance and superiority because this symbolized inequality. Conversely, one would fight fist-to-fist if you fought with a social equal, not with a backhanded slap.
Therefore, when Jesus would say, “turn the other cheek”, his followers knew exactly what dynamic he was about to discuss. The superior would not hit you with a closed fist, because that signifies an equal relationship with the opponent. Since the superior would not use the left hand (unclean) to hit the left side of your face, you could avoid being hit again by “turning the other cheek”. Jesus’s audience knew that this did not signal an opening to be hit on the left side of the face, but was a way of avoiding being hit again because one would not use the left hand to make contact with another person. This would be seen as vulgar, and the superior would be left humiliated by unwittingly treating the person as an equal. This is seen as a great metaphor for passive resistance.
Now that we understand that one way we can deal with a backhanded slap is to turn the other cheek, we can apply it to an everyday situation as it pertains to truth, trust, and safety on the Internet. One condition that exists in today’s world that did not in Jesus’ time is the ability to record events and store them on a massive scale on the Internet. This unlimited collective knowledge and communicative access to other people may be leveraged to maintain passive nonviolent resistance.
For example, we have seen people in the public sphere use the Internet as a platform for passive nonviolent resistance. From the #MeToo movement to the NFL players kneeling to protest gun violence against Blacks by police officers, people are using the internet as a way to force their perceived oppressors to, at least momentarily, to view them as equals. In the #MeToo movement, many celebrity women came forward with claims of alleged sexual harassment and assault against powerful Hollywood men, like the movie production mogul Harvey Weinstein. Much of the momentum behind the #MeToo movement was gained through the persistent resistance of several actresses who came forward with allegations. A key feature of this dynamic was that all the Hollywood men in question held positions of power and authority over the actresses, which made it difficult to speak about the incidents without losing work opportunities and important relationships.
As Jesus was aware, it is also very powerful to have an audience, such as Twitter commenters or forum participants in this day and age, who view the oppressor and oppressed as having equal humanity. Whereas before these powerful Hollywood men felt untouchable and immune to punishment, the actresses were able to leverage their audience and fans to bring attention to the fact that no one should hold unchecked power over another. Eventually, the momentum from the public Internet forum was translated into a legal forum of actual courts, thus illustrating the power of leveraging your audience.
In terms of the NFL kneeling protests, one of the most recognizable people within the movement is Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick first participated in a demonstration in which he took a knee during the performance of the National Anthem in 2016. These protests from Kaepernick and other NFL players followed repeated killings of Black men and women during police interactions. To this day, many NFL players are fighting through passive resistance to show their disapproval of the oppressive dynamic, despite repeated calls by NFL team owners for them to stop. However, since these protests have gained massive attention through the traditional media as well as on the Internet, it has been a relatively successful protest.
How can we leverage this same dynamic for our everyday encounters both on and off the Internet? Well, one key to this goal is to understand how to cultivate an invested audience, just as Jesus set out to do. We need to make sure that during peaceful resistance, we are also engaging in communication with various stakeholders in the Internet community. On a smaller scale, we can use Jesus’ philosophies about peaceful passive resistance to maintain our sanity when being bombarded by Twitter trolls, Internet forum abusers and other negativity we face online by simply remembering his lessons about humanity and resilience.
Go the Second Mile
The Romans also allowed their soldiers to force the civilians to transport (via carrying) their equipment for one mile, but carrying their gear for more than one mile was strongly forbidden to avoid abuse. Each bag was approximately 60-85 pounds. This practice was a common and constant feature in Palestine, between the Persian and the Roman eras. One example of a person coerced into this practice was Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry the cross that Jesus was crucified upon (Mark 15:21). During times of war, whole villages were forced to carry soldiers’ equipment, and were often forced to flee to escape this practice.
Despite the hardship, Jesus explained that if a Roman soldier asked you to carry their pack, you should agree to it; however, you should also carry their pack a second mile. In fact, Jesus suggested that one should insist on going further than one mile. This would allow the peasant to regain his self-respect and dignity, while also putting the soldier in an unsettling situation. The disconcerting scenario for a soldier would be to be fined, flogged, put on a ration of barley (instead of wheat), or made to stand all day holding dirt because they were caught abusing the rule.
Jesus did not teach Jews to walk a second mile to “kill the soldiers with kindness”. Instead he was helping the oppressed class protest in a peaceful way, which sends a message to them that they can regain their humanity by disrupting the imperial forces controlling every aspect of their physical and spiritual lives. Here, Jesus also promotes an adaptive approach, one that advocates peaceful protest not just as a technique for outsmarting the opponent, but also one that opens the possibility of the enemy realizing that the behavior is unjust.
One example of this dynamic has been between the online “Incel” community and those who oppose this oppressive and hateful movement. The term “Incel” means “involuntary celibate”, in which the men in this community complain about not finding female partners, usually due to a lack of social skills or physical attractiveness. Consequently, the members of the Incel community frequently encourage others to enact violence upon women and girls to extract “revenge” for depriving them of sex and companionship. This has caused countless women and girls to face online harassment, abuse, or worse. Also, it has harmed the lives of many young men and boys, who often keep their online behaviors a secret from people they know “in real life”.
However, some women have been reaching out to the men and boys in the Incel community with kindness, and in a way are going “a second mile”, by showing they have the power to share their humanity and love, even in the face of oppression. Recently, the celebrity comedian Sarah Silverman did just that. She shocked the Internet when she responded with immense compassion towards an Internet troll who was a part of an Incel Internet forum. When she showed this compassion, she also expressed a new power dynamic by engaging his humanity. As a response, the troll actually broke down and revealed his depression and sadness he faced due to his ugly behavior. Silverman then did an unbelievably compassionate act, and offered to set him up with a therapist in his hometown. When Silverman showed compassion the first time, we can compare that act to walking “the first mile”. However, when she followed-up on his reaction and offered him therapy, she actually decided to “go the second mile”, and actually turned the tables on the power dynamic.
How to Use Jesus’ Third Way Today
Take the moral lead over your oppressors
Find ways to assert nonviolence in creative ways that creates attention
Communicate your humanity and insist on maintaining your dignity
Use humor in the face of ridicule and oppression
Refuse to be humiliated by breaking the circular dynamic of power
Do not accept your placement as an “inferior” and refuse to submit
Bring attention to the injustices within the system to your audience
Seize control of the power dynamic by breaking the cycle
Create shame to make the oppressor repent and atone for their actions
Stand your ground
Catch your oppressors off guard by forcing them to make decisions they were unprepared for
Understand that you hold immense power within yourself
Be ready to suffer as a consequence, rather than act in retaliation
Influence the oppressor to see you in a new way through your humanity
Avoid situations in which the oppressor can exercise a show of force in an effective way
Be prepared to face a major penalty for breaking unfair and unjust laws
Instead of fearing the rules and order of the oppressor be prepared to make a mortal choice
When we are in difficult situations, we must make a conscious decision to either more progressively and leverage our emotions towards positivity and good, or recess back into depression and oppression. We have to make conscious decisions to not be humiliated, to not fear, and to understand your own immense power for good. We can choose to “fight” or we can choose to engage in “flight”. However, Jesus teaches us to resist our human urges and use creativity and reason instead.
The Flight Response
The flight response encompasses the following: submission, passivity, withdrawal, and surrender. These are the behaviors, beliefs and systems that perpetuate the cycle of oppression, violence and fear upon the oppressed. In order to break this cycle, Jesus teaches us to engage our minds, to focus our attentions on responses that are creative and adaptive, and facilitate our survival and ability to thrive.
The Fight Response
The fight response includes the following act: armed revolt, violent rebellion, direct retaliation and revenge. On the opposite spectrum of submission and surrender include acts of violence. Jesus taught that these tactics are not the answer to conquer one’s oppressor. If the peasant class engaged in violence, this would actually perpetuate the cycle of death and negativity, not love and humanity.
Jesus’ Third Way
Jesus said, “Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but down answer the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal”. These are the lessons that have served many modern day activists very well, such as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Both of these revolutionaries looked to the teachings of Jesus’ Third Way to provide inspiration for their peaceful nonviolent acts of passive resistance. These verses are the foundation for MLK and Gandhi, whom build their incredible campaigns for social justice to the rest of the world, and were inspired to “turn the other cheek” and “go the second mile”.