Nonviolence has little or nothing to do with other people solving our problems for us. It is about learning to address them on our own. A good teacher of this craft will work to help empower us to work at resolving and transforming a problem, so we see a way out of further entrenching ourselves in such difficulties. And if it has not yet been fully emphasized, let me say it again–it is very hard and painful work to chip away at long-time ingrained conditioning, but there’s at least a rule of thumb to guide us: apply an opposite force or energy to counter the force coming at us. Take the challenge of terrorism — often cited as the case that proves nonviolence will not work. Of course it does. To begin with we can, to paraphrase Noam Chomsky, “stop participating in it.” That is certainly one way out of terrorism. Our further guideline here might be, as the Buddha advises, “conquer unkindness with kindness; greed with generosity.”
Gandhi would advise, in the same spirit, use nonviolence to conquer violence, but to understand him, we need to take it a step further: “this means you.” Do not wait for others to follow you or even offer it back to you while in conflict with them. Be proactive. There is a kind of violence that stems from passivity, and it must therefore be overcome through active pursuit. It’s not a coincidence then that so many cultural as well as popular media portrayals of the heroic are fantasies of others coming in to rescue us sometimes even aliens from outer space — a modern deus-ex-machina armed to the teeth with violence. This is not just “entertainment” fiction: watch this fantasy playing out in the militarization of police forces or the growing weaponry for militias around the world, while our problems stubbornly refuse to go away. We need to get clear–no one is coming to save us. Not even unarmed peacekeepers, who I think can do just about anything, can do that. We have to work this out ourselves, each and every one of us, wherever we happen to be. Only then will we really heed the message of the Mahatma.
Reflect on a problem that you are facing, and consider what you yourself can do to alleviate the tension surrounding the problem by applying an opposing energy to it, e.g. conquer anger through gentleness, etc.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org