(based on a booklet, 'Ocean Tree Books,' by Guy de Mallac, Santa Fe, 1987)
We are all aware of the global conditions in today’s world. Is it worse than in Gandhi’s day? I don’t believe so because each generation has issues they have to deal with, but here are some current stats:
- Total world population: 7.1 billion
- The cost of U.S. nuclear weapons is $5.48 Trillion; France has spent $1.5 Trillion, etc. This does not include what it costs to deploy, maintain, and store them.
- Climate change is affecting millions –we have now exceeded 400 ppm (ratio of carbon dioxide molecules to all other molecules) yet we need to stay below 350.
- Super storms, super typhoons, drought, famine, all are resulting in impoverishment and death.
- Wars over resources, including water, are everywhere.
- The UN refugee agency reported on World Refugee Day (June 20) that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.
- Inequality, injustice, etc etc
And so much more, which can leave us in despair. Is there a way out of this? What would Gandhi say? I began reading this recently to understand what Martin Luther King had taken from Gandhi and how relevant was it for the global conditions of today.
This is what I want to shareGandhi’s strategy of nonviolence is intimately related to his overall world view. Simply put, four interrelated principles:
- there is unity of all life, in spite of the seeming or real diversity or complexity of the forms of life – simply put I cannot damage something or someone without also damaging myself – it is at the core of most religions;
- there is a superior cosmic reality – the “still small voice” – within each of us that lets us know what is truthful and what is not;
- the religious message we receive through our conscience is universal – that message is the common denominator inscribed in the hearts of all women and men in all cultural and religious contexts;
- the supreme cosmic reality makes itself known through our conscience.
Gandhi’s overall strategy for peace and justice hinged upon the practice of these seven solutions:
Selfless service for the welfare of all
Problem: unrestrained selfishness creates havoc. We often seek self-promotion regardless of how much it may hurt others.
Solution: Gandhi’s solution to problem 1 is to work for the welfare of all people. Love all humans as brothers and sisters; challenge all descriminations and prejudices; withdraw support from repressive and oppressive policies at home or abroad. Promote the dignity of human beings regardless of age, sex, race or creed.
Fair and right labor
Problem: The weak, the poor, and the disenfranchised are crushed under the weight of harsh living and working conditions. Work opportunities are concentrated in urban centers where conditions are harsher for the poor; available jobs are not fulfilling. Large, technology centered, urban/industrial centers are impersonal and alienating. “Big” is impersonal and alienating. In the Gandhian tradition, our work is the most crucial and practical opportunity we have to apply our desire to bring about greater peace and social justice (as Gandhi said “Our work is our prayer.”)
Solution: Foster the right approach to work. Give the right to work to all human beings. Promote self-help, autonomy, and self-sufficiency. Support cooperative approaches to work and economic problems. Practice right ecology and appropriate/intermediate technology. Small is beautiful – small preserves a human scale and more human relationships. (i.e. UNDP and FAO re small-scale farming vs. agri-business).
Love and nonviolence
Problem: In a violent conflict, the law of aggression is allowed to take over. We become resigned to war as a necessary evil. Nuclearism is the ultimate violence. I would add a contemporary version: drone warfare as being the ultimate violence.
What did nonviolence mean for Gandhi? First, it meant working to do away with the injustices that existed for women in India (for us is #blacklivesmatter). Second, solve the injustices affecting the untouchables or pariahs, or outcast who were and are starkly present in Indian society. But they are also present with us: political refugees, minorities, poor, homeless, blacks living in ghettos, undocumented people living in the shadow, etc. etc. There are untouchables and outcasts in every society.
Third, get involved in one particular and concrete economic activity that helps bring about greater sanity and fairness in the relationship between the poor and the rich. For Gandhi, an example was advocating for the use of the spinning wheel so that Indian peasants could generate some income at a time when the majority of them were deprived of a means of earning a livelihood. For us, for example, we can share our resources with the most impoverished people by purchasing their products. Fourth, Doing away with a serious problem that plagued Indian society then, addiction to drugs. For us, maybe it’s the addiction to TV or cell phones. We need to learn to shake the psychic numbing that comes from these addictions and learn to be more alert and alive through the practice of service, of right labor, of active nonviolence, etc. Fifth, develop feelings of brotherhood towards members of other ethnic-cultural groups, doing away with discrimination of all kinds.
Solution: then involves the Practice of the Law of Love. Thoughtful attentiveness, practice creative listening to the other’s side, search for areas of mutual interests and on the basis of these, build projects to encourage the development of mutual trust. Use negotiation, arbitration, and other-conflict-solving methods at all levels. Actively pursue alternatives to military intervention. Support human freedom and dignity at home by endorsing civil liberties. Persistently denounce and oppose injustice.
Conciliation, Reconciliation, Mediation
Problem: Alienation in relation to people, society. Alienation from basic, warm, interpersonal relating to people. Exclusive reliance on intermediaries (police, judiciary) to avoid dealing directly with people, with potential conflicts. Systematic legalistic approach.
Solution: De-institutionalize what should be direct interpersonal contact. Abandon formal/legalistic approach to divergences and conflicts with fellow humans. Practice as much direct dialogue as possible with our opponent. Use negotiation, conciliation, mediation, arbitration, sharing of differences, co-creating, co-responsibility.
Participation in government
Problem: Big government is alienating, depersonalizing. Alienation in relation to our government. And thinking: “it’s the government’s job to do the job, to decide for us.”
Solution: We must train ourselves to speak truth to power, to examine our institutions. Gandhi invited us to develop enough boldness to speak up to our government and our leaders when necessary.
Problem: Alienation from others caused by the educational process. Education which merely fosters maximum gathering of information and competence. Education which is based on an antagonistic spirit of competition.
Solution: Gandhi said “I would develop in the child his hands, his brain, and his soul. The hands have atrophied. The soul has been altogether ignored.” Children in Gandhian schools don’t accumulate learning as people accumulate assets or riches. They don’t learn for the purpose of being first or winning a competition, at the expense of others. Rather, Gandhian education is cooperative. It prepares the individual to fit into a non-exploitative social structure. While it endorses the development of intellectual abilities, Gandhian education agrees with Albert Schweitzer that love is the supreme knowledge and views as the highest value the creation of a non-exploitative and loving framework of relationships with others.
Gandhian basic education is child-centered or learner-centered; dynamic; cooperative; nonviolent; and geared toward the acquisition of self-sufficiency.
Sharing of resources
Problem: Gross inequality exists in distribution of resources. Results are severe extremes of poverty and wealth. Gandhi stated “…some people accumulate wealth, regarding their greed as their religion…In proportion as we make our outer life more and more elaborate, we harm our moral progress, and we injure true religion.”
He advocated practicing a community approach to property and a joint ownership of resources. As opposed to practicing philanthropy (giving out alms and thus nurturing the illusion that we are practicing generosity), Gandhi advocated that we, the overprivileged, provide the poor and helpless with better job training and/or better work opportunities, fostering self-sufficiency.
Solution: Practice love grounded in economic justice. Change systems of production and distribution. Co-create new solutions so that mutual benefits result. Build a society that provides for basic human needs such as adequate housing, health, education, jobs in humane working conditions, and a safe environment. Simplify our own lifestyle; practice frugality. Learn to share, to give, to practice generosity on a daily basis; make these activities part of our lifestyle.
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