What would Gandhi say today on the 150th anniversary of his birth?

Hard as it may be to see the world Gandhi lived and died for driving itself to extinction, he'd be the first to note our capacity to set it right.
Painted mural of Gandhi (Flickr/thierry ehrmann)

Who ever thought we would be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth with everything he lived and died for driving itself to extinction. “Unprecedented” seems too weak a word. There have been catastrophes of some magnitude, like the ice age; but up to now they have been beyond our control. Now it is we ourselves responsible for the destruction that has unmistakably begun — and therefore we ourselves can find the capacity to set it right. This is what Gandhi would certainly say.

Hats off to the millions, young and formerly young, who have gone on strike to get some attention — and hopefully some action — on the most critical task ever to face humanity. But if we have learned anything from the slow but gratifying spread of knowledge about the science of nonviolence since Gandhi’s day we have learned that yes, protest can be an important first step, if we make it one. This point is made very clearly in a timely resource called “Climate Resistance Handbook: Or, I Was Part of a Climate Action, Now What?” by experienced strategist Daniel Hunter (and a foreword by none other than Greta Thunberg). I learned a great deal from this 62-page book, available to all as a free download. I learned that it’s a waste of time, and unnecessary, to worry about how to change the most intransigent opponents, the extraction industry giants and the politicians they buy over. Instead, as Hunter advises, think of the much more numerous and much less entrenched people who lie along your “spectrum of allies.” They are the former’s “pillars of support,” as the great nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp would say. By winning them over, or galvanizing those who always cared but were uncommitted to action, the intransigent power holders will be left without influence.

These die-hards are — to extend a metaphor he offers about politicians in particular — like balloons tied to a rock. You can blow them a certain distance to one side or another, but it’s much more effective to move the rock. The rock, as I see it, is twofold. Above the surface is public opinion and the behaviors and policies it supports; below that, the bedrock, so to say, is the general worldview or narrative about reality that the vast majority of people in the industrialized world still share: that we are physical beings, separate from one another and the nature around us, both of which we often have to exploit to get on in life. The Earth may indeed be finite, but we will simply ignore that fact because we can’t deal with it. Not, that is, unless we change our worldview.

How do we do that? We have to start with ourselves. We’ve been so badly served by our cultural conditioning for several decades now that before we do anything else we should think about our own “basic training.” Here are the essential, practical steps we’ve come up with at the Metta Center for that purpose:

  • Put as much distance as you can between yourself and those potent purveyors of the old story: the mass media. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
  • Learn everything you can about nonviolence and the new story in which it’s embedded. (It’s a life-long study, as I can attest!)
  • Enact what you’ve learned by these steps in your daily behavior: be personal with everyone, consider taking up a spiritual practice if you haven’t already.
  • Get out and act wherever your capacities meet the greatest need, and don’t be shy about telling people how you see the world. Not that they’ll immediately get it, but this is how those apparently rock-hard paradigms change: through steady erosion by a much happier alternative.

Then with this “basic training” behind us: read Daniel’s book. It lays out the believable, time-tested pathway from action to campaign to movement to lasting change.

Now, a final word about those seemingly entrenched, apparently all-powerful opponents: “they” have overwhelming political power; but “we” have truth (including the science). Besides, we have given them that power of theirs, and we can take it away. They have money and military machinery; we have a power within ourselves that no one can touch: nonviolence. They will stop at nothing, make no mistake. And neither will we. They appear ruthless, but we will be determined. Untiring persistence harnessed to the cause of truth — and carried out with the means offered to us by truth, namely nonviolence — does not know defeat.

This story was produced by Metta Center for Nonviolence

We provide educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, with the recognition that it’s not about putting the right person in power but awakening the right kind of power in people. We advance a higher image of humankind while empowering people to explore the question: How does nonviolence work, and how can I actively contribute to a happier, more peaceful society?

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.