Myanmar has been a recurring scene of repression and resistance, and today’s resistance is probably more organized, more courageous — and more costly than ever. This little booklet is offered in the spirit of solidarity and support to the people standing up to the military in the face of severe repression. It contains basics about nonviolence, which Gandhi rightly called “the most powerful force” we have been endowed with. We sincerely hope they (you) can use it.
Originally published in Waging Nonviolence
On Aug. 24, 410 C.E., Alaric with his army of Goths entered Rome and sacked the capital of the empire. The shock echoed throughout the circum-Mediterranean world and Europe: How could this happen to the “eternal city”? Though the scale of the attack was so much smaller, and it failed, many people throughout the much larger modern world today were shocked that this could happen to the “indispensible nation.” There are other differences, of course. The Roman emperor did not call down the attack on his own city! Nor did any senators join in the carnage. The Goths were an outside enemy, not Roman citizens, and were a relatively disciplined army, in contrast to the disorganized mob that attacked the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. But one cannot help seeing a parallel to the affront to the capitol, and wonder if there’s something we can learn from it.
In response to the events of 410, St. Augustine created his mighty classic, the “City of God.” He did it to reassure Christians that their abandonment of their pagan gods had not brought this punishment down on them, but along the way he managed to build a comprehensive vision that laid the foundation of a Christian order that prevailed through the Middle Ages. He was building on the essentially Jewish discovery of the unity of God, and by extension the unity of all creation, including the human family. It is no coincidence that this work includes the first in-depth discussion of peace, to my knowledge, in Western civilization. This is the component into which today Pope Francis has been breathing new life, for example with the nonviolence retreat hosted recently by the Vatican.
Perhaps we were lucky. The sack of one building, however central to our democracy, is very small relative to Rome. But, if we take it as the wake-up call it is, we can indeed find some clues to where to go from here that are, in their way, as grand as Augustine’s project. Kaitlyn Tiffany writes, in an article that appeared in October and was recently reprinted by The Atlantic, “This will change your life: Why the grandiose promises of multilevel marketing and QAnon conspiracy theories go hand in hand:”
I think this emptiness of meaning is the core of our problem. As the Washington Post reported on Jan, 13, “QAnon theorists were involved in every level of planning and carrying out the Jan. 6 insurrection;” and surely QAnon could not be swallowed for a moment by large numbers of otherwise adult people if they were not grasping at straws for some sense of purpose, of stability. Nor would the puerility of video games and action movies, which furnished the scenario in which the crowd could figure as the heroes who were saving the world. The world is in fact going through a crisis of meaning that will lead to more outbursts like this if we do not somehow fill that legitimate need.
We have somehow to do what Augustine did: come up with a worldview that gives meaning and stability, such that people would have no need to grasp at fantasies like QAnon or take to destructive violence to act them out. The worldview would not need to arise from the Judeo-Christian worldview specifically, but it would certainly want to be in harmony with the Wisdom Tradition, as the late Huston Smith called it: that vast cultural heritage of human traditions that hold out a vision of humanity as evolving spiritual beings in a meaningful universe.
Until recently, Augustine had an advantage over us: The science of his day, such as it was, offered no serious competition to the Christian worldview. He carried out many arguments with Neoplatonic and other philosophical schools (which carried more weight than the science). He was able to prevail, in my view, because Cristian scripture furnished a better way to talk about the inner life, which was what the world at that time was looking for.
Until recently. The material science and material worldview that has dominated Western civilization for several centuries seemed to deliver an airtight explanation of reality based on the random motion of material particles, and gained great credibility when it was able to deliver a dizzying surge of technology and material abundance — including very real advances in healthcare that we would not wish to be without. But when push came to shove it failed to account for the most vital endowments of the human being — our emotions, the intellectual achievements that distinguish us from the other animals, consciousness itself. A bit over a hundred years ago now the theoretical underpinning of materialism was exposed to the glare of quantum theory, with its discovery of the primacy of consciousness and “non-locality” or interlocking unity of existence. Come down to today and you find physicists talking about “non-local consciousness,” biologists unearthing precious legacies of cooperation running throughout evolution, psychologists leaving behind Freud’s misguided focus on disfunction to work out a “positive psychology” — and Gandhi gifting the world with nonviolence and daring to claim that “nonviolence is the badge of the human species.” Even military personnel now, faced with the trauma suffered by troops who are not wounded in body, are now speaking of “moral injury” — the harm caused by hurting others that they tried to make recruits shed through the dehumanization of military training.
One group of “new scientists” — this movement is often called “new science” as opposed to “classical,” i.e. materialist science — has formed an Association for the Advancement of Post-material Science. The fact is, we need post-material everything. Starting with a post-material image of the human being. The vast common inheritance of human wisdom in virtually every known culture has unwaveringly maintained down the centuries that we are endowed with, if not actually are, spirit, soul, or call it what you will. We now possess innumerable scientific experiments showing that we can affect one another at a distance via what scientists call “subtle energy.” We can influence to some degree how quickly others heal, what they’re thinking, even the neuronal activity of their brain. As one group of researchers showed, when two subjects meditate together for some time and then are widely separated, with both wired to fMRI devices and only one shown a flashing light, the other’s brain will show the same rhythmic firing. The point here is not to refute Einstein, who famously refused to believe in “spooky actions at a distance,” or to make a case for parapsychology, but far more importantly to make us aware of our full humanity; to save us from feeling “like gypsies in the universe,” as one writer put it, and feel good about the undiscovered capacities inside us — and take responsibility for how we use them.
Above all, it is to make us aware of the undeniable connection among us. It is inspiring to imagine the changes that would follow this awareness. Racism, which is after all based on a reaction to physical difference, would disappear. As Gandhi said, “Even differences are helpful where there are tolerance, charity, and truth.” Most kinds of alienation would be substantially resolved, taking off with it vast amounts of the depression, hostility and meaninglessness plaguing human life today.
Post-material economics would go on from E.F. Schumacher’s famous “economics as if people mattered,” relieving the earth of its crushing burden as people stopped frantically trying to make themselves happy by manufacturing more, buying more, eating more, throwing away more than they could ever need — often at others’ expense. Think of the relief of the people themselves when they realize that frantic consumption isn’t working, and they don’t need it. They can start working toward happiness where it does come from: rich relationships, meaningful work, ways to serve, etc.
Another name for nonviolence, of course — at least the kind Gandhi and King employed — is “soul-force.” it would cease to be a mystery that nonviolence works at a deeper level to improve relationships and social arrangements, while violence, as Martin Luther King said, “solves no social problems; it merely creates new and more complex ones.” Violence would be revealed as against the grain of human nature, while nonviolence springs from it. Like other natural endowments, to be sure, it has to be recognized, learned about and trained for if we are to deploy it for meaningful change. But at the heart of it is a simple change of attitude: where violence would say that a person is a problem, nonviolence would counter, no, that person has a problem. On the solid basis of this new attitude, which really implies, at bottom, a different worldview, highly successful nonviolent work can proceed through the trajectory of personal empowerment, constructive action and resistance where necessary. Given strategy and training — and we’re getting better at both — it’s not hard to imagine that we can build a new order out of the present chaos.
There are people right now hard at work on this “new” worldview (which has been around for millennia). This work is building the infrastructure, or less metaphorically, the conceptual framework that will bring many forward-looking experiments already going on in the fields of nonviolence, economics, education, popular culture and science itself into prominence. It will support suggestions being made, for example just now by Maria Stephan’s article in Waging Nonviolence, “We need to prepare for ongoing insurrectionary violence and address its root causes.” But this effort needs to stop being the preserve of a few specialists; all of us can help by simply familiarizing ourselves with the outlines of the new story — starting perhaps with the simple formulation offered above, that we are evolving spiritual beings in a meaningful universe — and talking it up wherever there’s the opportunity. Consider it your personal “Constructive Programme” that, like the spinning wheel in Gandhi’s program, can be done by any and all of us and be not only a set of effective actions but a concrete expression of our common purpose.
We have a new president. Let us give him a new mental climate to make his work fruitful.
Though I pride myself on being familiar with Gandhi’s voluminous writings, there was one aspect of his thinking that never registered with me until I saw the back window of a truck the other day with a death’s head on the rear window and a bumper sticker that read, POLITICALLY INCORRECT / AND PROUD OF IT. When people call themselves “the Proud Boys” and display bumper stickers like that, what they’re telling us, between the lines, is they feel disrespected. We had better listen to them. Psychiatrist James Gilligan, who worked with men incarcerated for violent crimes for 25 years, reported that, “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.”
Today there are 73 million Americans who have been outvoted, but they have not been won over. Not all of them are less educated or less well off — as in Hitler’s Germany and other totalitarian regimes, intellectual endowment does not, apparently, automatically confer reason or moral awareness. That said, however, many are in that class, feeling disrespected and sometimes ridiculed. A few of them are quite violent. This is why Gandhi, who instinctively shrank from any disrespect toward anyone, seized on Ruskin’s idea that manual labor is worth just as much as the work of a lawyer, professor, or corporate manager. He stressed the need, on the one hand, to develop the “intellectual life of the villages,” and on the other that his followers, who were by and large well-educated and well off, to do “bread labour” for their daily upkeep. If we had picked up on this aspect of his social program we may have been able to head off the prejudice that resulted in four years of Presidential disaster and is not going to go away by itself on January 20th .
It’s not too late to rebuild. We have made progress in other areas, but as political philosopher Michael Sandel recently wrote in the New York Times, “disdain for the less educated is the last acceptable prejudice,” and, “it’s having a corrosive effect on American life” — unfortunately an understatement. Sandel focuses on the way people without a college degree are left out of our increasingly technological meritocracy, and Arlie Hochschild has also covered this very well in her sensitive study of Bush voters who, while they might be voting against their economic needs, are actually voting to serve their emotional needs (see her Strangers in Their Own Land). And as Gilligan points out, when that emotional need is for respect — which after all every human being needs and deserves — the resentment can take to violence.
This kind of resentment has in fact had devastating consequences throughout history. In the Khmer Rouge uprisings in Cambodia you could be summarily executed because you wore glasses and therefore looked like an “intellectual;” the Chinese revolution had the same feature, and so does Fascist populism, despite its being politically the opposite of its communist counterparts. I’m old enough to remember a newsreel where Mussolini’s elite soldiers pull out their daggers and cry in unison, “The greatest intellect in the world can be silenced by THIS!” Making Trump a figure of scorn, justified as it may feel it to be, is only making things worse. When Hillary Clinton called his followers “deplorables” it probably did her — and us — more damage than then FBI director Comey’s ill-timed noises about some mishandled emails. The communists wanted to eliminate intellectuals; Gandhi wanted to wake them up to the dangers of their prejudice. It’s obvious which way leads to disastrous violence and which can take us to beloved community.
I’ve been stressing the dangers of disdain, but it’s just as important to note that the opposite is also true: when you can respect the person of an opponent even while resisting their injustice you gain a powerful tool in creatively reducing conflict. British historian Arnold Toynbee famously pointed out about Gandhi that, “he made it impossible to go on ruling India, but he made it possible for us to leave without rancour and without humiliation.” That skill was a critical component of Gandhi’s belief in democracy and the power of nonviolence to protect it. As he said in 1938, “Democracy and violence can ill go together. The nations that are today nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or, if they are to become truly democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent.”
Disdain for the less educated is embedded in our thoughts and institutions, but for that very reason we have several ways to tackle it. We can be rebuilding on at least three levels: personal, structural, and cultural.
I am a great believer in the power of the individual. After all isn’t the most destructive myth of the material age the belief that we are “just one person,” that we have no inner resources? It is no coincidence Gandhi and Mother Teresa — who said “I believe in person to person” — got big by starting small. They tackled the foundational myth of human insignificance that lies at the root of the problem we’re now faced with in ominous forms.
I grew up lower middle class economically and had the advantage of a good education, which had, as I now recognize, the serious disadvantage that I did not escape a certain feeling of superiority to the “low-brow” world around me, especially as television began its devastating drive toward the lowest common denominator. Whenever this feeling sneaks up on me now, I immediately remind myself that everyone has the same spiritual core, the same exact value as a human being in the sacredness of life. My subtle prejudice felt good to my ego, no doubt, but was causing a not-so-subtle sense of alienation from my fellow beings, which is a deep kind of distress whether we’re conscious of it or not. When we make the kind of correction I’m talking about, and especially when it becomes second nature, it becomes much easier to have a fruitful conversation with people who are coming from the other side of the political spectrum, and sometimes persuade them. It is, after all, a core principle of nonviolence that “the person is not the problem;” someone may hold the most outlandish, fantastical and dangerous ideas; but it’s the ideas we have to eliminate, not the people holding them.
Of course this is small scale, but again, inner and relational work is the foundation of the structural and cultural changes that can eventually follow.
When white supremacists cry, “you will not replace us” they are expressing fear of people they consider different, and have no way passed that fear as long as they cannot conceive of any relationship — like cooperation, like unity in diversity — other than the pseudo-Darwinian competition they think life is based on. That said, there is an underlying quite concrete reality behind the fear, as Sandel has correctly pointed out. In our increasingly technical, and thus technocratic economy that favors huge corporations and the people who know how to run them, people without these skills or ways to develop them are being increasingly replaced by others, and often by machines.
For every reason then; environmental, economic, and social, healing must include the long-term process of building down our technocratic and centralizing economy. “If India is to be nonviolent,” Gandhi said, “she must decentralize many things.” And so must we, to restore human scale and meaningful work that’s available to people across the societal spectrum. Fortunately, again, experiments in this kind of future are happening: Transition Towns, other intentional communities, revitalized family and organic farming, CSA’s, and local coinage and cooperatives, to give a sense of the richness and variety. Benefit corporations and large-scale worker-owned corporations like the highly successful Mondragón conglomerate in the Basque region of northern Spain are another example.
We now go to an even more far-reaching effort we need to take up, and it’s less clear how to go about it: nothing less than changing the underlying narrative of Western Civilization. Peter Hammond Schwartz, writing in Salon on December 13th, has finally pointed out the rarely if ever mentioned underlying reason Democrats seem to never gain any traction in the ‘culture war’ with Republicans. He calls it “the cosmological emptiness of liberalism: Right-wingers have a theory of human nature. Democrats have failure.” That is, as I have argued in my recent book, The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature, we are at the end of the materialist paradigm, but have not been able to lift up the alternative. We are still stranded in a cultural story, that causes people, no matter what class they identify with, to think they are separate, material objects with no control over their fate in a random and meaningless, universe. The commitment to radical separateness condemns us to a life of competition and violence. Far beyond the Democratic or any political party our civilization as a whole, with our imitators around the world, keeps us from believing in empathy, goodness, or community because they give us no way to explain the effectiveness of cooperation and nonviolence even if they happen to catch sight of these forces doing their work. The Democrats’ plea for “compassion” falls on paradigm-deafened ears.
Today, U.S. servicemen and women feel they are driven to suicide in appalling numbers because, as they often say, “I lost my soul” in Iraq or Afghanistan. You cannot “lose” your soul, in my belief system, but you can certainly lose sight of it. Thus, again, it is not just the less formally educated who are suffering the lack of self-esteem: all of us are starting from a baseline of a lack of respect for life, and consequently for ourselves, built into the false narrative that conditions our belief in who we are. Of course we will be sensitive to any disrespect based on our race, class, educational level or whatever, because we’re suffering from a lack of self-worth to begin with. You need a robust sense of personal value to be able to laugh something like that off. Even those who feel superior based on any of those criteria feel unconsciously diminished since they also cannot really grasp what their actual value is, which is not theirs but everyone’s.
The Devil is in the narrative, and that narrative is ripe for replacement. Just as this need to replace it has become urgent, the human inheritance of the world’s wisdom traditions, which is where the healthier and more real story comes down to us, has become more accessible. This it’s the biggest obstacle to accessing it has become its greatest support, as the “new science” is confirming it from many angles.
How paradigms change is mysterious; you cannot vote on them. But you can learn them — learn, for example, the scientific evidence for our non-material, cooperative nature. endowed with a critical capacity to change. Last month, the New internationalist reported on a 2015 study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, showing that, “through the cultivation of our mind and heart, we can change our motivations from self-centered and selfish to ones that are more caring and affiliative, and these in turn promote prosocial behavior and cooperation.” These motivations and behaviors become all the more natural when we begin to sense that life is sacred, and our sacredness does not come from our intellectual or financial prowess but from the very fact that we are human beings.
As the new year comes in, and the imminent threat of totalitarianism is at least forestalled, let’s take the deeper dive, personal and societal, to its underlying causes and make sure it will not rise up again.
By Annie Hewitt
One of the most striking aspects of principled nonviolence is the way in which it compels us to reconsider our understanding of familiar terms and practices. For instance, our commonplace idea of what it means for something ’to work’, or for someone ‘to win’, or how to distinguish ‘ends’ from ‘means’ are reconceived when explored through the lens of principled nonviolence.
The same is true for the word ‘prayer’. If we think about what it means to pray, we tend to imagine that we send our prayers out from within us towards someone or something else: we have a need or a desire — some kind of lack — and we pray for support, we pray to be fulfilled from a source that lies beyond and above our own particular selves.
Professor Michael Nagler explains how we might think about prayer differently, and this new understanding is grounded in the notion that prayer is not something that flows from us, asking something of the same entity external to our individual being. Instead, genuine prayer grows from the idea that reality, that entity to whom we pray, is actually within each and every one of us. This reality is the source of our power, and a reflection of the fact that we are inextricably connected to one another, to the earth and all other beings. Most people already feel a kind of connection to families and close friends, but principled nonviolence sees this unity as the dynamic force of love, embracing not only our dearest but our fiercest enemies. Meaningful prayer must be directed to that deep, eternal and internal reality which is our own true self.
This relocation of reality from without to within is perhaps the most radical shift principled nonviolence makes to the usual notion of prayer. But Gandhi recognizes two other key aspects of prayer, the first might seem counter-intuitive: prayer must be selfless. Prayer cannot be aimed solely at one’s own private gain, rather it must serve the greater good and benefit others as well. And given the notion that we are all in and of the same reality, the entire notion of selfless is another term that’s turned on its head!
Finally, prayer entails real concentration. Prayer is not a casual exercise, to be taken up lightly, on a whim. It must be thoughtful, pointed and deliberate. After all, a prayer is an attempt to shift reality in some way; in a sense, when we pray, we want to make the force of love shine brighter. This exalted aim deserves our full attention.
If you are seeking a path of potential and centeredness, a space to explore what is noble and beautiful within ourselves and our world, check out our self-paced online retreat, Sacred Humanity.
By Annie Hewitt
Winning feels good — so good in fact that it can be easy in the moment to forget how bad losing feels. Losing is especially painful after a conflict in which one is fully committed, when one’s skin is definitively ‘in the game’. Stretching the metaphor, to lose is, in a sense, to lose one’s skin, one’s most immediate and intimate protection against the world. Losing reveals our vulnerability and can leave us feeling humiliated and embarrassed.
The principle of non-embarrassment — never invoke any mechanism that would compromise the dignity of the other, and never put up with a compromise to your own — is a core value in principled nonviolence and relates directly to the fragile state of the loser just described. Principled nonviolence calls on us to respect the dignity of all human beings, even those with whom we most profoundly disagree. It is this respect for the dignity of all and the steadfast commitment never to compromise that dignity that requires a reorientation of the traditional notion of struggle/fight/conflict.
Principled nonviolence rejects the idea of the zero-sum game. Practitioners of principled nonviolence do not aim to ‘win’ per se, rather they endeavor to find truth, which is not the property of only one party in a dispute. This is because conflict, as Professor Nagler explains, need not be construed as a power struggle but instead can become a conversation, a joint attempt, however fraught, to come closer to truth. And truth, like love and peace, is essentially abundant; everyone can, should, and in fact, does already share in it.
Adhering to the principle of non-embarrassment is not only good insofar as it allows ostensible opponents to gain a broader perspective (hopefully allowing them to understand better and move closer together), but it is also effective. An opponent who is made to feel embarrassed is often confused and distracted, certainly not in a position to listen, nor even to articulate his/her own position clearly. Alternatively, a conversation partner might help us to find increased clarity and greater understanding — and more, can free us from destructive power struggles intent on establishing winners and losers. When we can disagree and argue with respect, we are recognizing each other’s dignity and in this, we are in a position to create new spaces for compromise and growth.
We, the board and staff of the Metta Center, have been in the process of writing something for our friends and followers about the electoral crisis, but the situation has been and remains so fluid that we waited for a definitive outcome at least of the election itself, though there are still dangers and unknowns ahead of us.
One thing is already certain: the last four years have deepened the already painful divisions between people of different races and persuasions. We must do everything we can to heal those divisions, not only for its own sake (differences are normal, divisions painful and can be healed), but to restore faith in democracy worldwide.
Democracy is based on a positive image of the human being, so to restore it in this highly influential country would mean not only to restore faith in democracy but restore our faith in the human image, throughout the world. It would also remove from our path a distraction that has kept us from attending to the biggest problem that has ever faced the human race: how to reverse the destruction of the planet’s integrity that is threatening to make our only home uninhabitable to life.
In the recent election, 99% of the Congresspeople who supported the Green New Deal won reelection. According to a Yale University poll, 82% of voters agreed that America’s main energy goal should be to reach 100% green energy. The stage is set.
In Common Predicament by Sharif and Sharif shows that working on a common problem is the most effective way to heal divisions. These two problems, then, the division and the climate menace — and add in the pandemic for good measure — need not be competing priorities. The first step in realizing this potential is somehow, slowly but steadily, to convince people that both the pandemic and the related issue of climate are human issues, not ideological issues, that we likely can only solve together, by cooperating.
The outcome of the Presidential race is favorable to the cause of nonviolence; but nonviolence can do much more: it can go on to assuage the feelings of those who are smarting from what they perceive as a loss. And this we must do. In Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King relates how the Montgomery bus boycott had almost won the day when a white citizen warned at a council meeting that if they gave in “the Negroes [sic] would say that they had won,” and that was intolerable. In fact, both Gandhi and King warned their movements that they could certainly take pride in and learn lessons from their successes, but they must never yield to triumphalism. We are now in exactly that position, and if we heed that warning we can avoid the backlash that often reverses the successes a nonviolent movement gains.
As we put it at Metta, “When you succeed do not try to work in a new issue, or yield to the temptation to triumph over your former opponents. Remember, the goal is not to ‘win’ but rebuild relationships.”
We learn once again, doing this, that there is no trade-off between ethics and strategy, between the right thing to do and the most effective. In nonviolence, they’re the same.
How can we begin that kind of change in this atmosphere of incivility where polarization has gone so far as to make people vote for death rather than face facts, just because the other side espouses them? One principle we can bear in mind here is Gandhian svadeshi, roughly ‘localism,’ which became the key to Gandhi’s economics and beyond that the whole philosophy of social change and human relationships.
Which of us does not know someone, be it a relative or coworker or friend, on the ‘other’ side? Using whatever relationship we can as a basis, we can follow the successful formula of the very effective peacebuilding organization, The Search for Common Ground: “Find the commonalities, work on the differences.” Armed with this, it becomes easier to reach out and at least hear with respect what they have to say. Respect benefits all and is a powerful force for transformation.
Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, explains beautifully how it feels like on the receiving end of that kind of respect: “He (Gandhi) made it impossible to go on ruling India; but he made it possible to leave without rancour and without humiliation.”
What we’ve been suggesting is small scale, but small changes can become nodes that interconnect and become the network of a new reality.
Mother Teresa said it beautifully: “We feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if the drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To us what matters is an individual. To get to love the person we must come in close contact with him. If we wait ‘til we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers. And we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person.”
After all, why are we so passionate about democracy? Because, fundamentally, it elevates the dignity of the human being. So does real nonviolence. The consistency of method and goal is powerful.
I once believed, rather naively, the literal truth of the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies.” Over time, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that this is impossible. We cannot love our “enemies.”
When we make others into the enemy, there is no room for love. The consciousness that creates enemies is antithetical to the consciousness that is love.
Saint Augustine exclaims in the Confessions, “Imagine thinking that one’s enemy could do them more harm than their enmity.” When I strive to fulfill the teaching to ‘love my enemy,’ I’m actually answering the call not toward some outward person that I must accept and treat with respect–there’s something that comes before that. I’m being asked to heal my own inward wounds that makes me believe I have to hurt others in order to stop hurting. That for me to win, someone else has to lose. For me to be happy, someone else has to be sad or demoralized. Politics in America has sunk to this level; but we do not have to stay there. Nonviolence can help free us from this mindset. And when we are free, we cannot help but help free others, by our very example.
When I defiantly triumph over others, humiliate others, willingly degrade or hurt others, I do that to the whole of humanity, myself included. I impede our collective progress toward peace. When I heal those parts of me that are wounded, I make room for seeing the world as whole, for seeing all of humanity as one single body, clothed, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “in a single garment of destiny.” That destiny, our evolutionary potential: I’m not sure we cannot even grasp its power and fullness. Consider what we could do if we did finally realize that we were not separate from anyone or anything — and we were meant to work with each other instead of against each other, meant to nourish and not destroy what is ultimately our own self? How many trillion bacteria work with our (vastly outnumbered) ‘human cells’ making up our seemingly independent human bodies…these bodies that are somehow filled with the consciousness that makes you think that you are you! And I am me?! And what more on our journey do we need to see that you are me, and I…am you? What is next for us if we can just get there? Can we get there?
We have a lot of work yet to do. But all of the great mystics as well as all of the great nonviolent leaders of great democratic movements have shown us and told us time and again: we’re here for a purpose and not for rest. And still…
Saint Teresa of Avila in her spiritual testimonies repeats over and over, “Love turns work into rest.” Love transforms not just enemies into friends, but the very mechanism that creates enemies in the first place. Let that be our work. And then, may we work, and work, and work …
for peace, for healing, unceasingly, in all ways possible, and may that work always be for all of us, the highest form of rest we shall ever find here on Earth.
by Anne Hewitt
If we admire democracy, a government that aims at the common good, that responds to the needs and interests of the people, that is chosen by the majority but also protects minority views, we might ask ourselves: is democracy so important that we should support and defend it by any means? More specifically, is it permissible to use violence in order to bring about and secure a peaceful democratic state?
For some, the answer to this question is an unequivocal, yes. The road to democracy, they claim, may well call upon us to use tactics that are decidedly undemocratic. In certain cases, these supporters continue, we must turn a blind eye to the use of violence and oppression even if such means conflict with deeply held principles we have — after all, isn’t democracy worth such momentary lapses?
Professor Nagler looks at American involvement in Iraq as a clear example of this belief put into action. It is now abundantly clear what the American war in Iraq wrought, and it is not the democracy that was our professed end. Rather, hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions displaced, destruction of infrastructure and an administration so indifferent to the needs of Iraqi citizens that it was forced to step down last fall — in response to nonviolent protests! While the October Revolution in Iraq has been thwarted in many ways; first by brutal repression from the government and armed militias, then by COVID, the movement that was initiated by nonviolent protestors in 2019 has succeeded in bringing about dramatic change to Iraq’s social landscape: women have been empowered, working-class people have made their voices heard, and diverse groups have come together, united to call for their rights in hopes of building a democracy from the ground up.
Given this example — and many more in history — it is worth considering whether it in fact makes sense to separate means and ends. We might instead see the two as inextricably connected. After all, ‘ends’ have blurry edges, there are always ripples that flow from them, rendering each end in turn a means to other, often unintended further ends. Every action we take is therefore an end in itself.
When we act violently in order to defend or promote democracy, we are weakening the very foundation of the reality we wish to bring about. Democracy is not static, rather it is an ongoing process which we are always improving, tweaking and perfecting. Sustaining a dynamic and peaceful democracy is best achieved through a commitment to nonviolence that ‘goes all the way down’ that is, through deeply held convictions which consistently lead to actions reflecting them — in short, through principled nonviolence as opposed to strategic nonviolence.
As we look at the state of the American democracy today — polarized, marred by fear and anger — the threat of violence looms. It is now more urgent than ever that we rely upon principled nonviolence. As we move through this next week and those that follow the election, we’d do well to remember Gandhi’s words if we feel inclined to lash out: “Means are ends in the making.”