Choice vs. Submission or Rebellion

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“Never give any system the power over you to rebel or submit.” — Marshall Rosenberg 

When an entity, system or individual has authority or power and mandates something we do not agree with we appear to have only two choices: to submit or to rebel.

If we submit, we give in or give up, usually out of fear of consequences. There may be the thought that we “have to” submit, and we have no choice.

If we rebel, we are in a reactive state and may say or do something we regret, and there may be consequences for these actions. We may not help our cause and we may give our power away to others. Even if we appear to attain something in this manner there is usually resentment, anger, and pain on one side or both. Rebelling does not lead to the best result or the betterment of all.

It is helpful to note that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. did not submit or rebel. They found a third option. They were able to be in choice and advocate for their cause by not submitting or rebelling.

Gandhi and his followers chose to voluntarily suffer as they practiced civil disobedience. Even in this suffering they did not lose their composure or connection to ahimsa (nonviolence). They did not rebel with anger or resentment, and they did not give in or give up. Martin Luther King also did the same.

These leaders were able to advocate for their cause by focusing on what they wanted to see happen. They said “no” to an unjust system and then said “yes” to their longing for more power and choice. One famous example of this is the Salt March, when Gandhi and thousands of Indians made salt from seawater in defiance of British law.

King says to his most bitter opponents, “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”

King commits to his choice to love and not lose his composure and rebel. He is definitely not submitting as he resolves to find a creative way to meet resistance with soul force.

He is committed to retaining his choice, values, integrity, and love, no matter what. He adds, “Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

King’s intention and choice was to stay connected to love and advocate for his cause all the while also holding his opponent in his heart. He hoped they could together come to a new arrangement that would satisfy both and that he could transform others by “appealing to their heart and conscience.”

To be in choice is to honor our deepest convictions and values and to be able to see with the heart and not the ego. We choose from within how we will respond, and we find an inner strength that guides our decisions and actions. We do not give our power away to others or the system but instead we rise and find our voice and walk our path. When we are in choice, we are present with life, and honest with ourselves and others, as well as tender, strong, empathetic, assertive, calm, and firm.


As you navigate this day, this week and month consider how you can stay in choice and not rebel or submit when you are triggered, find yourself in a conflict, or are advocating for your needs. How can you stay connected to your values and choice as you encounter trying times?

This is an excerpt from Eddie’s book Principles and Practices of Nonviolence: 30 Meditations for Practicing Compassion.

I, Eddie, encourage you to consider participating in the Season for Nonviolence (SNV), a National 64-day campaign committed to demonstrating that nonviolence works. The campaign, which begins January 30th and ends on April 4th was inspired by the 50th and 30th memorial anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

SNV was established by Arun Gandhi, Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson. The international event honors the visions of individuals like King and Gandhi and many others who have been pioneers in nonviolence.

Eddie Zacapa is the founder of Life Enriching Communication, a certified trainer with The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) and the author of Principles and Practices of Nonviolence: 30 Meditations for Practicing Compassion and Essentials for Cultivating Passionate Volunteers and Leaders. Eddie provides nonviolent communication training to organizations and has worked in the domestic violence field for 20 years dedicating his life to ending the cycle of violence. He and his wife also work with couples and individuals who want to strengthen their relationships with others. You can visit his website at and his blog at To receive a free electronic copy of his latest book go to