by Robert Wilkinson
It seems that my recent post saluting Gandhi has provoked a response over at The Gathering Place from Dr. Laura Schlessinger dismissing the Mahatma’s way of dealing with violent opponents. She uses the same tired argument to justify violence as a viable response to violence, while missing the point and true meaning of “ahimsa” and “Satyagraha,” the underpinnings of Gandhian philosophy.
Dr. Laura posted over there: “I'm sorry, Tricia, I'm not in agreement with most of this. Had he gone up against Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, etc., you'd never have heard his name. He went up against a decent civilization: England - that's what made the difference. Force eliminated the extermination camps of Nazi Germany - not compassion ‘for the other side.’ With respect, Dr. Laura Schlessinger."
With all due respect, Gandhi never advocated rolling over in cowardly submission to authoritarian models. When asked if he approved of the Poles taking up arms against the Nazis, he publicly approved, on the basis that one must defend one’s life and loved ones against violent aggressors. However, in opposing violence, we must not yield to hatred, bloodlust or desire for revenge, or we become the enemy and have lost the higher battle.
Above all, his philosophy was founded on non-cooperation with any authoritarian entity or attitude that lessens our love, honor, and essentially non-violent higher nature. He was quite clear that his techniques worked well against the British because he considered them a “civilized society.” He was also very clear that his techniques would have to be adjusted to deal with Fascist barbarians (my term). However, to say “you’d never have heard his name” is a cheap shot and inaccurate at best, since his name was very well known internationally long before Hitler and Stalin plunged Europe into war.
His belief that we must come to understand an opponent, and be willing to go the distance to meet opposition halfway with dignity, strength, forgiveness, and a willingness to try to win them to another view, has never been fully tried by our modern moral pygmies. Of course, he had very powerful moral authority because he wasn’t a hypocrite and actually walked his talk, unlike most men and women in positions of social or political power today.
Approximately speaking, Ahimsa means “least violence,” and Satyagraha means “Soul Force.” Dr. Martin Luther King proved the viability of the power in these Divine forces when confronting the brutal totalitarian police actions of the Southern states during the Civil Rights movement. For Gandhi, these were not mere tactics to be used conveniently to provoke sympathy, but the very power of the Universe and God as manifest through humanity. He was also clear that unless we are totally committed to LIVING these in every way, they would fall short of the ideal as tools for social action.
Dr. Laura’s view, I suppose, is that force is the ultimate decider. I would state that while force does often achieve temporary results, they remain unsatisfactory in terms of our humanity, since we lose every time we yield to violent tendencies, for whatever reason. Even for righteous reasons, every time we choose violence over negotiation from a place of strength and compassion, we lose our humanity and become more barbaric.
Even when we must use force, it should be a tool of last resort. If we can come to understand the humanity of our “enemy,” we will not lose sight that we are one race, the human race. Except for a few very disturbed thanatophiles, all want a better world for their children and grandchildren, free of the violence that has plagued humanity since the first stone was thrown.
I’ll close with two of the Mahatma’s most known quotes: “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” and
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, ALWAYS.”
More Gandhi quotes at this site.
More quotes on nonviolence from a great site:
“Ten years ago I saw peace as a tangible goal. Today I see peace a little differently. Peacemakers, I have gradually recognized, function in the world much like kidneys function in our bodies, constantly, unendingly removing the wastes and poisons which are an inevitable part of our lives. As long as we live, the poisons of hate, injustice, and misunderstanding will be produced, and peacemakers will be needed to clean up the mess.” —Barbara Stanford
“You think that good is hating what is bad. What is bad is the hating mind itself.” —Bon Kai (Buddhist monk)
“People try nonviolence for a week, and when it ‘doesn’t work,’ they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.” —Theodore Roszak
© Copyright 2006 Robert Wilkinson