Noncomplementary Behavior

The best propaganda is not pamphleteering, but for each one of us to try to live the life we would have the world live. – Gandhi

The saying goes that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. A path of vengeance only perpetuates continuing retaliation. If I meet discord with more of the same then I am a complement to discord. In the field of psychology, a disruption to this monkey see, monkey do behavior is termed noncomplementary behavior – flipping the script and meeting hostility with non-violence and willing understanding.

One may sense that the majority of today’s behavioral interactions are conditional. Typically, warmth begats only warmth and insult guarantees insult. All we need do is look at our political landscape, racial disparity and religious conflict, to see this laid out with such vindictive regularity. It is a willingness to listen with an intent to understand that disrupts this polarizing intensity.

Threads of noncomplementary behavior are woven in pivotal moments throughout the social justice movement. Sitting at segregated lunch counters, walking across a bridge in Selma, widespread civil disobedience in India during the 1920’s and 30’s – all these and countless other intentional behavior modifications led to an ecology of change. Those who were beaten and verbally attacked by violent direct action did not retaliate in like manner but instead engaged in non-violent methods.

Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi were willing to live and teach this method of interaction. King said it brilliantly, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must each ask ourselves, “Am I willing to love justice more than hating injustice?

The practice of this behavioral technique is really the golden rule with legs. Treating another the way we crave to be treated requires that we repeatedly choose to not reciprocate another’s prejudice, bias or fear with our own. We can disrupt the cycle of anger by understanding that it is heightened fear. Fear doesn’t need more fear. Fear needs understanding.