Tale of a Vandal Pen Blogger: Behind the Name

The more curious among you have asked about the origins of the name of my blog, Peaceable Writer. While I didn’t plan for this post to coincide with the day honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate that it does.

The short answer is that having been a blogger for many years, I wanted to create a new blog that said, essentially, kindness encouraged here.

My 2009-self observed that many bloggers and commentators tried to differentiate themselves by being snarky, condescending, and smarter than thou. That kind of competitive environment, which still exists across social media today, is a kind of culture that disinterests me—in a really big way.

The longer answer is that carving out a peaceable path in our world is something I’ve long been engaged with.

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As a teenager, I came across the writings of Mahatma Gandhi at my local library. In a file folder was a quotation:

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.
—from Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World (1954), by Louis Fischer.

That idea resonated to me then, and continues to anchor me today. Perhaps now even more so in the face of so much darkness in our world.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Jesus, Einstein, Thoreau, Barbara Deming, Gene Sharp, Thich Nhat Hanh, Nelson Mandela—all are among my teachers on living with compassion each day. They have taught in various ways the hows, the whys, and the strategies of nonviolent responses to injustice.

Dr. King talks briefly about his impression of Gandhi in this interview excerpt:

Some people, of course, find an adherence to nonviolence naive. Some see it as a weak or cowardly response to take. Yet if you spend time looking at how others have utilized nonviolence strategies throughout history—from the Boston Tea Party to the American Civil Rights movement to 2011’s Arab Spring—you might discover why Gandhi once said,

Nonviolence is not to be used ever as the shield of the coward. It is the weapon of the brave.

The most familiar form of nonviolent action Americans are familiar with would be the sit-ins and marches of the civil rights movement. These were powerful, impactful actions taken against injustice.

There are many forms of nonviolent action that have been—and continue to be—used around the world. Political scientist, Gene Sharp, has detailed many examples of nonviolent actions and strategies in his books. A list from Sharp’s Methods of Nonviolent Action gives us 198 different methods.

Some people view nonviolence as a pragmatic response to repression. Others view nonviolence as a way of life. I embrace both those views, believing the soft can overcome the hard in the world.

The Honorable John R. Lewis has remained steadfast throughout his life in his commitment to nonviolent social change. He has said about nonviolence:

It’s this idea, this concept, that you respect the dignity and the worth of every human being.

Nonviolence is a big topic, and I share just a wee bit about it to tell you more about what’s behind the name of the blog—Peaceable Writer.

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Paper cranes made from New Yorker magazine covers

Throughout the coming year posts will appear on the blog on the 2nd and 16th of each month. We’ll see how that goes, ay?

Thank you for asking questions, and especially thank you for reading, my friends.

Here’s to holding onto kindness and curiosity, together!

Another favorite quotation of mine is long, and comes from Krista Tippett’s interview with Maria Popova:

Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naïveté. I try to live in this place between the two, to try to build a life there. Because finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving our situation produces resignation, of which cynicism is a symptom, a sort of futile self-protection mechanism. But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation, because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope.
—Maria Popova, Mapping Meaning in a Digital Age, interview by Krista Tippett, On Being podcast, May 2016

Classic Texts on Nonviolence You Can Read Online

Additional Tiny Reading List

Watch BBC’s Hardtalk’s interview with Gene Sharp, circa 2012.

Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech from 1967 on the three evils of society: