Monday, July 19, 2010

A Crash Course In Nonviolence

"It is better to be violent if there is violence in our hearts than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence." -Mahatma Gandhi

My father is a nonviolence professor.  This gives a certain zen-like picture to my home life, but this has been a learned thing for him.  When he was a little kid he used to dress up as Zorro and run around putting fake Zs on people's clothing and challenging them to sword fights.  And when I was a little girl sometimes he would get into a temper and storm around the house swearing and projecting big huge angry vibes and generally scaring the crap out of me.
Eventually I told him that he was extremely scary to me; around the same time one of our family friends, while walking their son to school, caught my father cussing up a storm in the driver's seat, and laughed hysterically at him. 
My father hasn't thrown a temper tantrum since.  I literally can't remember one.

One of the things that he comes up against, a lot, when talking to his students and critics, is the idea that nonviolence is somehow weaker than violence.  That a person who practices nonviolence, is, in fact, impotent, or scared, or passive, or a number of things.

But from all of my years growing up with my father, and talking to him about his work, and watching him in action, I can testify that this is not the case.

Nonviolence is a commitment to avoiding hurting other people.  Nonviolence has nothing to do with getting what you want, and everything to do with respecting life in all its forms--including your own.  This is the important part.  Your life, and your health and your well-being, is just as important as everyone else's, and nonviolence is a commitment to recognizing that importance in every daily action. 
Gandhi said that it was better to be violent if there is violence in your heart than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.  I heard this quote used in an action movie recently to justify one character's decision to return to kicking ass, and that really depressed me.  Because that's not really what he meant.  He meant, "Don't be passive, or weak, and pretend that you are acting morally when really you are just afraid.  It is better to be violent if that is the truth about yourself and how you feel than it is to lie about your commitment to nonviolence."  He thought nonviolence was important, but he thought truth was more so.
Gandhi also said, "I can't teach you to be nonviolent--but I can teach you not to bow your head before anybody."
A true nonviolentist doesn't ever let others walk all over him.  A true nonviolentist doesn't let a foreign government treat his countrymen as second-class citizens because of the color of their skin.  But he also never expresses those views, or insists on his own way, in a way that hurts anybody else. 

A true nonviolentist knows that other people act based on their own beliefs and wants and needs, and not on any reaction to himself; and he respects those wants and needs as best he can without slighting his own.  A true nonviolentist knows that his own ego, and hurt feelings, are less important than his own inherent dignity and the dignity of others. 

A true nonviolentist realizes that expressing anger is not nearly as important as creating a loving and safe atmosphere for his children--and when he realizes this, he never lets himself cross that line again.

I'm finding it hard to see the weakness in that.