Gandhi’s Nonviolence Ideas – What Did Gandhi Really Teach?
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
We all know that Gandhi taught principles of nonviolence. But what are these principles and how do you apply them? Author Mark Jurgensmeyer, describes Gandhi’s ideas on facing conflict with a higher consciousness view in his book, “Fighting with Gandhi.”
According to Gandhi, there is a Moral Reality which is just as true as our physical reality. Just as there are laws of science, there are laws of harmonious living. The most fundamental truth is existence. Truth is always supportive of existence. Truth is those things which come from life, defend life, enhance life and allow life to flourish.
In Truth and Higher Morality:
- There is respect and goodwill for all life.
- Human rights are recognized and practiced.
- Morality is unchanging across all situations.
- There is striving for what is right for the collective.
- Individual differences are recognized with movement towards a higher consciousness.
- Individuals can internalize these moral standards and live according to them.
- There is resistance to rules and behavior that are not consistent with the quality of life.
- Wisdom becomes synthesized as both recognize the truth the other brings to the fight.
In Violence and Coercion:
- Life is negated.
- Untruth is created even when the fight is enlisted for a “noble purpose.”
- There is negation of the will and freedom of others.
- Scheming, tricking and emotional blackmail are forms of coercion.
- Individual differences are over shadowed without concerns for human rights.
- Giving in by one side may happen, but there will be stirrings of unrest.
- The broad resolution to the conflict cannot be met and strife will break out again.
- The uneasy guilt of a forced solution may lead to unsatisfied feelings and more conflict.
- Accommodation of the person without addressing the principle will not bring about a definite, permanent solution.
Forced victory is taking a moral presumptuousness, crusading attitude which asserts with absolute conviction that theirs is the only truth. This approach focuses on the other person as wrong and ends up blaming and overcoming with force. This approach comes from stubbornness which gives the triumph without integrity. The fight for the principle of the respect for life is lost through the use of force.
Gandhi told his followers to “redirect the fight from the person to the principles” underlying the conflict. Differentiate between personality issues and the greater moral issues. He always sought the “Truth Force,” or the satyagraha, approaches confrontation by seeking a solution that brings about the broader resolution.
“Behind each struggle lies another one that is much deeper.” In any confrontation between two views, each side holds a bit of the truth. Gandhi saw honoring the truth of both sides as the way to resolve conflict. Each side is partially right; there is no black and white, right or wrong, there are only competing shades of gray. Behind each person’s side is an idea or their “truth” which may be at odds with another person’s “truth.” The conflict or the struggle between the two sides represents the coming together of the two “truths” to form a greater Wisdom.
Why Fight At All?
The purpose of fighting is to sort out the truth and untruth in yourself. “One should fight to stand in good accord with one’s own conscience. However, “not all fights are worth going to.” Choose your battles wisely.
Fear can weaken the resolve to fight. Avoiding conflict regarding an important principle can be cowardice. Inaction at the time of necessity is inexcusable. “Fighting, if nonviolent, is never demoralizing; cowardice always is.”
The first rule of nonviolent action is to refuse to cooperate with any action that is humiliating. Verbal abuse is always humiliating as it is non-respectful towards the other person. When you are being screamed or yelled at, leave the situation, noting that you will return when things have calmed down. Noncooperation can be a potent force helping to disrupt verbal abuse. Do what a little child might do–take your toys and go home.
But what if the opponent is not interested in a truthful solution? What if the opponent is cranky, suspicious, angry, recalcitrant and shuts down? According to Gandhi, you can engage in nonviolence even if the other person engages in war. Pressure techniques such as strikes, boycotts, and demonstrations to gain attention for your cause are permitted. Go ahead and fight with the principles of nonviolence acting as if the person were pleasant, generous and flexible. Concentrate of the Higher Moral Principle and ignore their rude behavior.
Resolutely refuse to treat the opponent as an enemy. Focus on the process of resolution rather than blaming the other person. Watch your own need to be right and forcing your way of seeing things on the other person.
- Do try to engage your opponent in a fight.
- Try to come to a truthful alternative without alienating the other person.
- Examine the principle beneath the conflict. State the principle and keep the focus on it.
- Separate out the truth and untruthful positions of each side.
- Convince the opponent that the fight is worthwhile and his positions will be considered.
- Fight with integrity by satisfying both sides that their position have been honored.
- Be forceful and encouraging in finding a peaceful solution at the same time.
- Start carrying out nonviolence means, as if you have the right to do so.
- The goal becomes the means. “As the means, so the ends.”
- Search for a broader solution rather than focusing on a narrower one.
Identify the Higher Moral authority and what you are doing to support life in regards to the conflict. Find the common ground between you. What do you agree on? Agree to agree on what is agreeable. Put your initials on that aspect of the argument that is settled. Go on to the next easiest concern, and sign off on it when there is agreement. Work your way through the different points of the conflict, one by one focusing on your integrity and these principles of nonviolence.
Ahimsa: Dynamic Compassion; Nathaniel Altman, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, IL
Fighting With Gandhi; Mark Jurgensmeyer