Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Activity 5: The Middle Path

Part of What We Choose

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Write on newsprint, and post:
    • Can civil disobedience be undertaken as a mean between extremes, a middle path? If so, how do you recognize the middle path? If not, why not?
    • How is the practice of civil disobedience grounded in the notion of upholding virtues?
    • How is civil disobedience still relevant as a form of social protest and transformation?

Description of Activity

Introduce the activity with these or similar words:

Aristotle defined virtue as "the mean between extremes." For him, seeking the middle path, the one between two extremes, cultivated an even temperament-and thus, a virtuous character-that would serve us well in all the seasons of life.

The notion of the middle path is not unique to Aristotle. Great progressive thinkers throughout time have espoused the middle path, or nonviolent resistance, as a core value for social transformation. In ancient Palestine, for instance, Jesus advocated resistance to injustice by rejecting both the violence of those who would overthrow the Roman occupation and the passivity of those who would accept it. In the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau, influenced by Hindu and Buddhist texts, wrote his major political work, Civil Disobedience. Thoreau's philosophy influenced Gandhi in the development of his nonviolent resistance movement. Gandhi, in turn, influenced Martin Luther King. These activists viewed nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, or noncooperation with injustice as the middle path between passive acceptance and violent insurrection. They all believed that following the path of nonviolent resistance was following the path of virtue.

Introduce the posted questions and lead a discussion about the connection between cultivating a virtuous character and engaging in acts of nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, or noncooperation with injustice.