Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dialogue, Power, and Nonviolent Resistance

by Miki Kashtan

It is not non-violence if we merely love those that love us. It is non-violence only when we love those that hate us. -- Gandhi

Painting these watercolor portraits of Gandhi helped
Malekeh Nayiny find an inner path toward healing.
From the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.
I have been thinking, for years now, about Gandhi’s invitation to be nonviolent in thought, word, and action. It’s only this past week that it finally dawned on me that in many instances, nonviolence in action is easier than nonviolence in word, which in turn is easier than nonviolence in thought. Many more groups and individuals worldwide, for example, have refrained from physical violence when engaging in social change action while at the same time harboring hatred of those in positions of power. For an extreme example, most people don’t kill anyone even though it’s known that many people entertain fantasies of killing. Our habitual thoughts are deeply ingrained, and require ongoing active and conscious practice to transform. I am not surprised to discover that both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, in different ways, wanted their biggest legacy to be how they lived much more than their external achievements.

As I think about what it means to live in a nonviolent way, I keep coming back to the clear insight I’ve had that all of us can be nonviolent when everyone does exactly what we want them to do. The test of our nonviolence is precisely when people do things we don’t like. Whether individuals in our personal life, co-workers, people we supervise, or bosses at work, or those with significant economic, social, or political power - the challenge is the same. Something profoundly changes when we take on loving everyone. This love is of a unique kind. It isn’t about wanting to be everyone’s friend. It’s not even about liking what people do. For me, it’s about two core bottom commitments. One is to maintain complete awareness of that person’s humanity, and therefore uphold their dignity in all our choices about how to respond. The other is to continually aim for solutions that attend to that person’s needs, as best we understand them. Both of these are internal matters, and they tell us nothing about the specific kinds of actions to take in response to what we don’t like. At the same time, those intentions completely affect how we might choose to respond in those times when someone else’s actions are at odds with our own human needs.