Metta’s Opinion

What a Satyagrahi Knows

This guest post was contributed by George Cassidy Payne, the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. He is also a writer, a domestic violence counselor, and an adjunct professor of philosophy. George lives and works in Rochester, NY. You can follow him on LinkedIn.

The most powerful force in the universe is not electromagnetism, gravity or time. The greatest force in the universe is Satyagraha, which technically means a firm or steadfast adherence to Truth. Satyagraha is the most powerful force in the universe because it is the universe. It is the moral dimension of the universe revealing itself through social and political action.

Mohandas Gandhi coined the term in 1906 while leading a nonviolent resistance movement against the British. He wrote:

None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term “passive resistance” in describing it. I did not quite understand the implication of “passive resistance” as I called it. I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase “passive resistance” gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit this great struggle to be known only by an English name… I thus began to call the Indian movement “satyagraha,” that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance” in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word “satyagraha” itself or some other equivalent English phrase. This then was the genesis of the movement which came to be known as Satyagraha, and of the word used designation for it.

Tactically, there are four main components that must be in place to activate Satyagraha. Firstly, a Satyagrahi must comprehend that all life is interconnected. From the ant to the aurora borealis, all life forms-including physical, mental and spiritual-are one at the source of their creative purpose.

The second principle is that persuasion overcomes coercion. That is to say, there is a long term advantage to convincing an adversary to understand and empathize with your perspective. Compelling opponents through intimidation or bribery is only temporarily effective, and it always has unintended consequences.

Thirdly, a Satyagrahi knows that ends and means must be aligned. Mohandas Gandhi referred to a surgeon who uses contaminated tools and expects a successful operation, which is an attitude that is both illogical and irresponsible.

Fourthly, a Satyagrahi is transparent in all matters. In any struggle the truth is pursued in good faith, with an open mind, and with sincerity. Gandhi once wrote, “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”

Underlining each of these four components is a conscious belief in the spectacle of bravery—the type that can only be manifested through voluntary acts of suffering. If you would conquer another do it not by outside mechanisms but by creating inside their own personality an impulse too strong for his/her previous tendency. In this way Satyagraha taps into the “Law of Reversed Effect,” which states: “The greater the conscious effort, the less the subconscious response” or understood another way: “Whenever the will (conscious mind) and imagination (subconscious) are in conflict, the imagination (subconscious) always wins.”

A Satyagrahi knows that our ancestors from the dawn of life have suffered pain and deprivation-it is part of our collective nervous system. When others see bravery in action, there is an imagination-stimulus that gets galvanized. Of course this impulse may be crusted over by custom, prejudice and hostile emotions, but it is still ingrained in all of us. Inevitably, a nonviolent resister submitting themselves to bodily suffering for the sake of a noble cause rouses people’s moral conscience. Since feelings are more contagious than appetites, no other strategy is more effective in combating injustice.

When these four components are in place, there is almost nothing that the force of Satyagraha cannot achieve. It literally has the power to bring down dictators without firing a single shot. Satyagraha can make the proud see the plight of babes and it can make children mightier than the most formidable systems of oppression. Satyagraha brings refreshing aid to the sick and it uses the healing qualities of nature to bring health to the masses. Older than the hills, Satyagraha is an infinite, everlasting goodness that makes constellations burn with passion and the eyes of the poor glow with dignity.

A Word from Volunteer Lamisa Mustafa

Dear Metta Center Friends,

I first learned about the Metta Center last December, when my mentor and I were looking into UC Berkeley’s Peace & Conflict Studies program, which was of course founded by the Metta Center’s Michael Nagler. After I came across a call for volunteers on Facebook this summer, I asked if I could help remotely, as I’m living out my human rights journey at Southern Methodist University, in my hometown of Dallas, Texas.

Since June of this year, I’ve been volunteering as a research assistant for Dr. Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook, the organization’s executive director. I’ve also helped edit/format a book chapter on nonviolence and the economy.

My volunteer work makes a difference in my life, because I get to soak up the wisdom of nonviolent practitioners.

It has also given me opportunities to share my own voice. I’ve published an autobiographical poem through the web version of Nonviolence magazine, and my essay about living as a Muslim in the US will run in the Winter/Spring 2018 issue of the magazine.

Changing hearts and minds is the hardest work, but it is so rewarding. My peers, friends, family, and mentors help me realize that in this process of giving to the world, I am giving so much to myself. Social justice starts with each of us—we are our own human selves.

The human rights champions around me—and those who are their true, unapologetic selves—fill me with hope. I feel at peace knowing that there are so many people fighting the good fight. I am hopeful, too, because all our journeys come together to form one human story. I appreciate being able to share some of my story with you here.

Volunteering is one way to support the Metta Center’s work. Donating is also a powerful form of support.

At the Metta Center, our community’s work is grounded in transforming ourselves, our relationships, and our world (no small tasks!). Any amount you can give will help the Metta Center reach more hearts and minds with the nonviolence resources the world desperately needs. Donate today!

Thanks in advance for giving us a hand. I wish you and your loved ones the very best for the rest of 2017.

Lamisa Mustafa

P.S. I’m passionate about the power of narratives in social justice. So I’m putting together a poetry anthology to celebrate human diversity and the human experience. I’m welcoming submissions til December 17.

Poetry: Submissions Call from a Volunteer

Lamisa Mustafa is a Metta Center volunteer and a first-year student at Southern Methodist University, where she is double majoring in Human Rights and Sociology, and minoring in French. She is passionate about the power of narratives in social justice. Through her poetry project Voices of Resilience, she will be creating a print and web-based anthology. (more…)

Be the Change, Be Yourself

This guest post was contributed by George Cassidy Payne, the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. He is also a writer, a domestic violence counselor, and an adjunct professor of philosophy. George lives and works in Rochester, NY. You can follow him on LinkedIn.

The world does not need more energy, cars, street lights, and computers. The world does not need more airports, superhighways, and mega cities. The world does not need more democracies and free markets. The world does not need more hospitals, medicines, and cures. The world does not need more agreements, treaties, and contracts. The world does not need more conversations, Facebook memes, and status updates. The world does not need more programs, grants, and scholarships. The world does not need more helpers and doers. The world does not need better high schools and colleges. The world does not need anything, not really. (more…)

Seeing Nonviolence?

The Metta Center–especially our founder, Michael Nagler–has been interested in the science of nonviolence for several decades. So the other day, I sent this article out to our awesome volunteers to see if it would spark some cool insights about how we understand nonviolence:

Hi everyone, 

The Metta Team has started exploring questions related to nonviolence every week, and so here is one! What do you think: 

Here’s an article from the NYT about the phenomena of perception and expectation. 

My question for you all is whether you think that we might be able to extrapolate some insights about how nonviolence works–or what it is–from these (non)observations. 

Looking forward to hearing from you! 


Here are some responses. After reading, you are warmly invited to add your own insights in the box below. We’d love to hear from you!


LOU:  As a magician and photographer, I am very aware of how misdirection and composition can hide things.  Both of these attributes are operating in the sample images in the article that made me “miss” seeing the big toothbrush, and less so the parking meter.

The strongest way this relates to nonviolence for me is how people often don’t “see” nonviolence because we are culturally conditioned to focus on conflict and who’s to blame for it. Like the toothbrush, we’re looking for what we are expecting – someone or something to be wrong.  If we’re more in the habit of seeing the basic human needs being expressed in a conflict then we would see human beings struggling, feel compassion, and maybe our imaginations would be sparked with something new.


Annie: Hi everyone, and thank you, Lou, for your (very clear!) response. I completely agree that our current culture conditions us to see violence, which in turn tends to cause us to be blind to actions — even movements — of nonviolence. Unfortunately, in most mainstream media, unlike in the images of the big toothbrush and parking meter, the stories about nonviolence are simply not there.

That said, one aspect I liked about considering parallels between this and the workings of nonviolence is the fact that we seem to be particularly unaware of ‘out of scale’ objects. My hope is that, like the toothbrush and the parking meter, nonviolence is, in fact, enormous in our world, we just need to learn to ’spot’ it. If this is the case, we should try to think about what might trigger our capacity to do this, to see the truth which is in front of us, One way might be to think about the fact that it was easier to identify the parking meter because we’d been alerted to its presence. So perhaps then part of spotting NV is having its presence suggested. This is a pretty…unexciting conclusion and I’m sure there’s more we can draw from this example, but simple awareness raising seems pretty important.


Thuy: Thanks, Stephanie, for bringing forth this interesting article and food for thought for the day. Lou and Anne, thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts on this issue of bringing awareness to nonviolence and how to make it part of our daily expectation rather than something that seemingly does not ‘fit’ in our vision of what we see in the world.

The author states, “People have a tendency to miss objects when their size is inconsistent with their surroundings.” I would say this is consistent with the amount of violence that has been mainstreamed into our daily lives versus that of nonviolence.

Anne brought up the issue of being alerted to the presence of nonviolence to create simple awareness. But, how do we know what we don’t know? And so, like Anne, that is my question for those of us practicing nonviolence or for organizations working in this field…how can we collectively ‘mainstream’ nonviolence in order to alert people to its presence so that the scale of nonviolence is no longer diminished within our vision? It almost seems like we need a national campaign, similar to a lot of public health campaigns around seat belts, drunk driving, quitting smoking, etc. so that nonviolence becomes normalized and practiced.

Thanks again for the illuminating discussion!


What do you think?

A Really Inconvenient Truth

Climate change is real. It is also essential.

“I like storms.”  -M.K. Gandhi


Eleven days without violence. This was the stunning result after the California Institute for Women (CIW) joined in Compassion Games, a worldwide experiment in social uplift drawing from Karen Armstrong’s work with the Charter for Compassion. The CIW is not a privileged feminist utopia– it’s a 120-acre prison in Chino, California.

Violent institutions rarely, if ever, promote the true well-being of those within its walls, and prisons are a prime example. Dehumanized people will treat each other with cruelty and violence, and CIW was no exception. So when a volunteer chaplain brought the games to the inmates, no one was certain how or if the experiment would work. But the women rose to the challenge–strategizing, resolving tensions, and taking care of one another in a way that affirmed the humanity of their sisters and themselves in the process. Simple acts like taking food trays to harder ones like holding back a fist ready to hit.

Maybe they’d try it again next year? (more…)