The war has ended and we must now look at peaceful approaches for resolving the considerable problems that remain. If the war has taught us one lesson it is that we must now seek different ways and means of achieving social change and justice in our society.
Let us take a concrete murder case in the community and how we normally deal with it. We can send the police in to investigate the case and bring the offender to ‘justice.’ We can also write about the causes and give some recommendations to prevent this from happening again. If we are provoked to such a degree we could also take a gun and take revenge by putting the killer to death.
There are of course some very practical, humanitarian and ‘soft’ responses that don’t grab our attention like helping and supporting the victim’s family to deal with the consequences. But they provide an entry point to the reality of the situation.
On the other hand all of the typical responses mentioned in the second paragraph above are also means of avoiding the root causes of the murder. The first is symbolic, the second impersonal and the third intensely personal but they are all means of avoidance – and depending on the context of the community also acceptable.
If we were living in this community we could be involved in some of these activities because they come naturally to us. If we are a neighbour for example we might help the victim’s family. Yet we may all be playing roles assigned to us by our situation without truly understanding the significance of what has happened and most importantly, why? The criminal process for example does not concern itself directly with the question WHY – except for the purpose of gathering some evidence of motive.
Let us say this is not the only killing but that it is part of a series of similar killings taking place in our community. What then should our response be?
This is where the Gandhian approach provides a direct response with its idea of ahimsa or non – violence. When the community disowns responsibility and seeks to pin the blame on the individual agent of violence the Gandhian takes the view that the community itself is responsible (not merely the individual) and he assumes his share of responsibility for dealing – not simply with the individual but with the phenomenon of violence itself. How does he or she do this?
This is done by moving from the concept of violence to its reality; from language to perception; from words to actual experience. We don’t take sides but elect to deal with reality.
On the other hand the criminal process provides a simple solution (punishment) for a simplified problem (crime). Human experience and the real life stories of the perpetrator and victim must fit within its narrow procedures. What does not fit is "irrelevant". The academic approach can be broader but being confined to language is impersonal. They both take the side of powerful logic against human experience. Then let us take the revenge taker. He rejects logic altogether, is consumed by passion and used by it – just as much as those who adopt impersonalized methods are used by logic.
Trapped as we are between these two extremes, of God – like abstraction and animal – like instinct we must look for a humane and intelligent middle way. One sure indication is to look towards the point of greatest suffering. This may take us towards practical and moral help for the victim’s family.
Once this is done the engaged Gandhian must necessarily seek a fuller understanding of what he is dealing with. He can engage with the police and he can go into academic research. These avenues are not excluded – but they must be integrated with a deep communion with himself or herself. Very often I have found that the depth at which you can touch others – is the depth you have reached in your own being.
If you have only examined yourself superficially you will engage others at the same level. The idea that you learn about others by learning about yourself is now accepted universally. It thus goes without saying that the more you learn about yourself the better.
Equal rights are fine but let’s remember that we generally gloss over ourselves. In the modern world we do everything possible to cover ourselves up and we avoid taking a really hard look at ourselves. In fact all this talk about human rights can become a very convenient way of putting yourself on an artificial pedestal and judging and criticizing others. But this must change.
It is now time we understood the concept of equal wrongs. We are all flawed and imperfect. This is a great starting point. We all make mistakes. To err is human.
We all have greed; we all have aggression and we all become blind when we are in the grip of greed or aggression. The degrees may differ but the seeds of both greed and hatred lie within us – till they are skillfully confronted.
Thus the non violent Gandhian community member seeks to understand and come to terms with his own aggression. By observing himself he learns where anger comes from and in what situations and where it goes. The process of learning and mastering anger is slow and gradual and sometimes full of ups and downs. It is not straight forward. Eventually s/he becomes experienced in subduing and controlling his negative energies. This mastery of personal change and the creation of moral power is in fact the triumph of non – violence over violence. Indeed every time someone quits smoking or taking alcohol or getting into violent fights – not because of external pressure but through his own voluntary effort a sustainable measure of freedom is achieved.
This personal change is at the same time accompanied by a positive change in the close personal relationships of this individual. The family member or office worker who has reduced his personal aggression and greed must by definition be a less selfish and more pro-social being. His personal interactions with others will test him/her and provide teachers and learning opportunities to apply the skills of non-violent communication, negotiation and problem solving. Less consciously and deliberately but almost naturally the community itself has changed with the individual. The dichotomy between the individual and community is a false one. The connection is always there. So even if change is achieved by one individual there will always be a general improvement within the community in which that individual lives and works.
In this way, non – violent individuals who are committed to their path become environments and beacons that attract other like minded individuals. There is one final question to deal with. How do these individuals steer clear of the inevitable corruption of money and power?
It would seem that a personal commitment and consistency to the chosen cause that transcends organizational ties is necessary. Secondly, and this is straight from the example of Gandhi, the individual must become part of the community he is serving.
Violence of every kind, stems from the stupid idea that we are superior to the people we serve. This is the untruth that lies at the heart of violence.