June 24, 2012
Do you really know Gandhi or even Martin Luther King, Jr.? You may think you do, but I believe that in some cases, we need to demystify our heroes so that we can more easily support their actions.
Recently we at teachpeacenow.org were given a little book, What Gandhi Says About Nonviolence, Resistance And Courage by Norman G. Finkelstein, to review. The book is quite readable as it “fleshes out” the self-contradictory nature of this Indian icon who nonviolently led his people to independence from imperial England. Subsequently, Gandhi’s actions served as a template for M.L.K., Jr.’s anti-segregation mission in southern America. Appropriately, both men are held in the highest esteem worldwide. I wonder if their mythic stories have inadvertently caused some of us to feel less able to emulate them.
According to Mr. Finkelstein, the Gandhi handed down to us is a sugar-coated version of the real man. Authentic Gandhi hated violence, but he hated cowardice more than violence. He believed that nonviolence inherently required more courage than violence. Sometimes he would use moral argument in the form of self-suffering fasts; sometimes he used coercive force (for example, calls to strike) to persuade malefactors into submission. Other times, taking the middle ground, civil disobedience, economic boycotts and picketing were employed. Mahatma Gandhi was an extremely gifted political strategist who adapted tactics to the situation at hand, but always stressed that even coercive non-cooperation “must have its roots in love”.
B.R. Nanda in his essay, Gandhi And Nonviolence, quotes Gandhi – “It is my firm conviction that nothing enduring can be built upon violence.” However, world peace isn’t created merely with pious wishes and fine words. Mr. Nanda believes that Gandhi felt that it isn’t enough to blame the opponent or to lament one’s situation; the least a follower must do is to start reform by beginning with him (her) self. First of all, he/she should realize that our heroes (be they Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Jr., Thomas Jefferson or Mahatma Gandhi) were only flawed humans like ourselves, capable of greatness despite their moral weaknesses. We can walk in their footsteps grateful that they are leading us on the right path. The point is to begin walking.
For more information on what you can do to emulate Mahatma Gandhi, the M .K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence located at the University at Rochester offers support for students and peacemakers in the following areas:
1. Nonviolence Education
2. Sustainability and Social Justice through Food
3. Social Justice and Nonviolence through Restorative Justice