"What a smile did"
“Not an ounce of nonviolent energy is ever wasted.”
–Gandhi (Harijan, January 11, 1948)
Mrs. Hartsough (the mother of one of my nonviolence mentors, David Hartsough) stood day after day in front of Hanford WA nuclear plant, to try to reach the conscience of those who worked there with a group of other ordinary people who realized that nuclear would mean danger to persons and the environment. Usually no one would greet them, and she thought for years after that their actions did not have any effect. One day, however, she found herself in line at a local grocery store when the man in front of her turned to her, as if he recognized her from somewhere. “Did you by any chance protest at the entrance of the Hanford nuclear plant twenty years ago?” he asked. “Why yes, I did,” she replied. “Well, you don’t know me, but I used to work there. And they told us that we shouldn’t make eye-contact with you people. But one day, I looked at you. And you smiled at me. And I quit my job.”
No newspaper would have known to report on that nonviolent success, but there you have it. Even David’s mother didn’t realize that she had transformed the life of another person–with a smile where he was likely expecting a rebuke or an insult. Imagine now that this kind of action is taking place all of the time. How do we explain that?
Just weeks before he shed his body, after decades of nonviolent struggle on two continents, Gandhi quietly shared one of the most significant insights about the power of nonviolence: no amount of nonviolent energy, no matter how small or unseen, is wasted. It might not seem to have worked, but, who knows? It could have been the small act that saved a life, inspired another way to do things, or led, even, to the fall of an Empire.
Experiment in Nonviolence:
Write down today’s quote in a place that you can see it often.