–Gandhi (Young India, July 2, 1931)
There is a story from the Middle East about a man who runs right into Death in the marketplace, and Death backs away from him, clearly startled. The man doesn’t take the time to say ‘excuse me’, instead, takes off running, and decides to move away to another village, miles and miles away. Death is there waiting for him. I thought I left you in the other town! he cries out, and Death replies, Oh yes. I was quite startled to see you there because I had an appointment with you here! A short parable to highlight that we cannot hide or run away from death.
Nonviolence is a scary idea to the so-called powerful, and they sometimes will not stop short of murder to stop it. When Gandhi began talking about nonviolence, people tried to scare him with the threat of death at every turn. Life was not so precious that it meant sacrificing his ideals to survive. The purpose of life, for him, was to perfect those ideals. If Death came for him, he would not hide, but greet it with reverence, courage and even grace. He proved this on many occasions.
That said, he did not invite death without extreme discrimination. We have to remember the tools of nonviolent conflict intervention: precisely because our lives are a trust, we do not offer them lightly, e.g. at too early a stage in a conflict, nor would we offer our lives because we hate life, or we hate people, or certainly not because we feel that our lives — or those of anyone — don’t matter. That has nothing to do with nonviolence. Anything done for nonviolence is done out of a deep and great love — this endures. You’ve probably seen the cartoon in which Gandhi and King are talking and one says to the other, “the funny thing is, they think they’ve killed you.”
This is the power of self-sacrifice carried to the extreme: renouncing that which you hold most dear, including life itself.
Experiment in Nonviolence:
Can you see in your own experience a proportion between your ability to sacrifice something and the power you gain by doing so?
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