It is one thing to protest outside of a palace, where you can say pretty much whatever you like, in whatever tone. It’s an entirely different thing when you speak directly to someone with whom you strongly disagree. We’ve all heard of “Bringing Down a Dictator,” (most of us) but what about talking to one?
Gandhi had the opportunity, on his way back to India in 1931, from the Second Roundtable Conference, to meet none other than the Italian dictator, Mussolini. Usually those who visited Il Duce, as he was called, were made to walk through a long hall to finally approach the desk where he would be sitting. It was a way of creating the appearance of his power over others. When Gandhi arrived, however, the Duce came to greet him instead. They spent about 10 minutes together, and Mussolini even accompanied him to the door. He asked Gandhi if he expected nonviolence would achieve his goals, as well as what he thought of “the fascist state he had built.” Our Satyagrahi replied, frankly, honestly, that he [Mussolini] “was only building a house of cards.” It was a statement to try to wake up someone who lacked the vision of what he was really doing, in a firm, friendly, and sincere way. Nonviolence requires this of us.
Still, a struggling person like myself, I find it hard to gather my thoughts when talking with an uncle who will cooly make the case for violence, let alone a dictator. We can all appreciate the courage behind Gandhi’s statement, his casting out of timidity, not just in the streets but even in the palaces of kings and dictators (the story on his meeting with the King of England another day). A courage that comes from having the other person’s welfare at heart, no matter how wrong or even depraved she or he may seem to us. With practice, we can learn to improve and maybe even perfect this art, as Gandhi did. Eknath Easwaran calls this “disagreeing without being disagreeable.”
If you could speak with one person who is causing chaos in the world today, who would it be and what would you tell them?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org