Is Non-violence Hard to Practice ?
I think it's because of something we could call "filtering."
Probably most of you who've worked with cameras know about the kind of filter I mean. The filter fits over the camera lens and blocks out portions of the light-usually certain colors-and lets the remainder pass through to the lens. In effect, the filter selects the portion of light that the camera will "see."
Each of us too sees the world through our own "filter"- a filter made up of our assumptions, our motivations, and the categories we use to sort out and organize our experience. This filter determines how we see the world.
When we come across something that doesn't match our assumptions, motivations, and categories, our filter blocks it out. It's not that we choose to reject it. Consciously, we don't even perceive it. Or else we perceive it in a partial, distorted form.
It seems that non-violence has a particularly hard time passing through many people's filters.
To know about current and past events, we depend a great deal on journalists and historians. Now, one thing that journalists and historians understand is military power. They know what comes from many people being shot or imprisoned. It's obvious when such power is being used, and a journalist or historian can feel professionally safe in describing and analyzing it.
But most of them do not deal so well with subtle, non-violent forms of power. They don't understand how such power operates; or even how it could operate; or even that such a form of power could exist.
So, as often as not, they don't notice it at all. Or if they do notice it, they don't grasp what they've seen. Or they don't connect it with its effects.
For example, say that a Third World country undergoes a spontaneous, country-wide, mass non-co-operation campaign against its dictator, lasting weeks or even months. Tens of thousands march in the streets, newspapers and radio stations defy the censors, whole cities are shut down for days at a time as people go on strike. Noted citizens call for the dictator's resignation, no one follows his orders, he has completely lost control.
Finally, four or five military officers, carrying out the obvious will of the people, march nearly unopposed into the presidential palace, arrest the dictator, and escort him out of office.
Chances are that our news media and history books will thereafter attribute the dictator's downfall, purely and simply, to "a military coup."
Watch the media closely, and you will find this is not at all an uncommon pattern. One classic example is in regard to the 1963 overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. An almost anti-climactic military coup followed a half year of intensive public actions led by Buddhist monks, in a campaign that destroyed Diem's base of support. Yet all three of the almanacs on my shelves ascribe Diem's downfall to the coup, and only one even mentions the popular campaign as a factor.
(By the way, for details on that popular movement, I refer you to what is probably the best overview of the worldwide nonviolence movement, The Struggle for Humanity, by Marjorie Hope and James Young.)
The fact is, even in revolutions that are primarily violent, the successful ones usually include nonviolent civilian actions not so different from the ones Gandhi used. And nearly every time, you will find these actions curiously downplayed or ignored by most journalists and historians.
As Indira Gandhi put it, "The meek may one day inherit the earth, but not the headlines."
So, Gandhi was definitely not "the father of nonviolence" in the sense of having invented it. But we might still grant him the title in something of the sense in which we say Isaac Newton "discovered" gravity.
Isaac Newton, of course, was not the first person to see an apple fall out of a tree. But Newton was the first person to notice that fall and grasp its significance, and provide us with a general concept so that we could do the same.
Newton, in other words, altered our filters so we could perceive the working of gravity.
The same with Gandhi. He seems to have been the first person to have the general concept of nonviolent action, to declare it, and then to consciously apply it on a large scale. In this way, he gave us all a way to perceive what he was up to.
Of course, some people still didn't get the point, because even when Gandhi laid it out for them, the concept of nonviolent action couldn't begin to pass through their clouded filters.
It's fun to read what's been written about Gandhi by his political opponents in England, or by Marxists in India and elsewhere, or by recent slanderers nipping at the heels of the movie Gandhi. What they've written doesn't reveal much about Gandhi, but it reveals a good deal about the writers.
Gandhi's most bitter critics have called him a charlatan-a deceiving, malicious fraud. After all, who could say the things Gandhi said and really mean them? Well, surely these critics couldn't!
Other, "kinder" critics have felt Gandhi was simply an idealistic fool, with no conception of how power works in the real world. Translated, this means that these critics can't understand how Gandhi's methods worked.
Let's look at these methods of Gandhi's and see if we can spot where their power might come from. And maybe we can clear up some other myths along the way.