During one of his stays in London, this time for the Second Roundtable Conference on the Freedom of India, someone asked Gandhi this question:
“Mr. Gandhi, if sorrow makes for character does it not prove that nations need war?”
Gandhi replied, politely but firmly,
“No. I think that this is a false doctrine. Sorrow and suffering make for character if they are voluntarily borne, not if they are imposed.”
This is one of the key dynamics of nonviolent action–actively shifting the dynamic of a situation where someone feels that they can impose suffering upon you. It’s called the Law of Suffering: dramatize a situation for the sorrow and pain it is creating, take that suffering on and transform it. The freedom is psychological as well as spiritual. Where before there was suffering and nothing you can do; now there is still suffering, to be sure, but you can use it as a powerful force for nonviolent change by taking it on yourself and holding up a mirror to the person or system imposing it. This is not to be confused with masochism; you are not making suffering for its own sake but rerouting suffering that’s already there for the sake of awakening a (former) opponent.
When we understand this, Gandhi adds, perhaps one day, we might bear witness to a nonviolent war. Gandhi mused, the results would be “indeed brilliant for all concerned.”
Have you seen the Law of Suffering played out? What happened?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org