Happy Birthday to A Real Super Hero: Mahatma Gandhi
Quotes beneath from GONV or “Gandhi on Non-Violence: A Selection from the Writings of Mahatma Ghandi” (edited and with an Introduction by Thomas Merton); 1964.
We’ll begin to explore the concept of Ahimsa and how one might become a practitioner of nonviolence in the context of NVC? [Utilizing last week’s process of Flowers, Tears & Lightbulbs (courtesy of Kate Raffin) to celebrate/mourn/learn as to our practice of ahimsa or nonviolence.]
I’ve chosen this topic, in part, as the night before our call I knew I would be participating – as a conflictant – in a mediation, one that has since transpired, and brought me to tears. The coupling of Gandhi’s recent birthday (October 2nd) with the prospect of preparing myself to engage in a mediated conflict brought up much thought on the topic of ahimsa (nonviolence in our heart); as to what it takes to consciously engage with the pain of conflict, towards a shift, baring one’s soul along the way.
Miki Kashtan, “I now know that I can choose how much challenge I want to have in my life or in any one relationship, and what kind of learning is most suited for where I am in life.”
Ironically, after having posted much of this blog, thereby meditating on the concept of Ahimsa quite a bit already, I had a surprising dream featuring one of my favorite ‘enemy images,’ Henry Kissinger. I’ve know for years that I wanted to write about Kissinger politically, and often my lip would curl and blood curdle when I spoke of him/this. Since studying nonviolence more assiduously, I noticed a shift in my approach to the topic of Kissinger:
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.”
— Henry Kissinger
For example, the question arose, gradually within, as to “how does a man, a German-born Jew (circa 1923, i.e. the Weimar Republic, a parliamentary democracy) later escape Fascism as a child (fled Nazi persecution in 1938) then go on to be a catalyst, sometimes warmongerer, complicit in inflicting political terror, overthrowing democracy, and instituting a totalitarian regime (as in Allende/Pinochet‘s Chile, to offer but one example).
September 16, 1973 (re: 9/11/73 Chilean coup):
- Nixon: Well we didn’t – as you know – our hand doesn’t show on this one though.
- Kissinger: We didn’t do it. I mean we helped them. [garbled] created the conditions as great as possible.
- Nixon: That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played.
(see also our Outline Tab-IV. and/or The Trials of Henry Kissinger; New Docs Show Kissinger Rescinded Warning on Assassinations; Is Henry Kissinger a War Criminal? for more)
“In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here.”
~ Henry Kissinger to Augusto Pinochet, June 8, 1976
In other words, studying ahimsa (or nonviolence), in recent years, has evoked some insightful — albeit empathically/psychoanalytically-tinged — historical inquiries. (FYI ~ Empathy & Neuropolitics)
“Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty.”
— Gandhi, GONV, p. 56 (I-358)
In my dream, I encountered Henry Kissinger at a dinner party, and much to my surprise, spoke with him cordially (as I often deride talk show hosts for doing) — even referencing a six-degrees-of-separation-like time in the 90s when his office called a phone that I was on the receiving end of answering, for example — all the while devoid of my usual waking life’s animosity towards him (while still acutely aware of my intention to write, and unflatteringly so, of Kissinger, hopefully contributing to a tipping point of awareness). Likely a dream inspired by Ahimsa.
Nonviolence, of course, as practiced by Gandhi, King, and Mandela is not at all passive but/rather a politically potent tool, a force to be reckoned with, altering the face of nations.
Back to its practice in the interpersonal realm of Nonviolent Communication…
One of the reasons for the dream’s significance, in my mind, was that it recalled something that one of my greatest NVC teachers once shared, namely that her dreams had been stripped of violent imagery. And, yet, despite her conviction to walk the path of ahimsa, she once surprised me while responding to an admission of mine (about ‘going through the motions’ in offering my empathic presence to another, but only half-hearteldly so). Hearing of this, she challenged me to vow never to offer ‘mechanical empathy.’
Quoting from Gandhi:
“It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence. Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become non-violent. There is no such hope for the impotent.” — Gandhi, GONV, p. 37. (I-240.)
I could sense how deeply held was the underlying value of authenticity, as she conveyed her cautionary wisdom (which I bristled at in knee jerk reactivity, initially, i.e. ‘how impractical!’ thought I, sometimes mechanical empathy is the best I can muster, and yet its residue lingered as I chewed on her thought-provoking, potentially nutrient-rich morsel, haunted by it still).
If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. — Gandhi, GONV, p. 25. (I-121.)
On a separate occasion, another instructor of the craft offered a surprising response to an inquiry of mine. How, I queried, does one dispense with one’s agitation towards another, when provoked, remaining unperturbed? He asked me, in return, whether I believed that the other ‘held-my-needs-with-care’ as well (in addition to their own)? I paused, momentarily, and recognized that, from my vantage point at least, only one set of needs seemed genuinely on the radar of the other (their own); thus honestly, I had to reply “no” to his question. Well then, he offered, it’s rather unlikely that you’ll have a sense of serenity or equanimity, easily, while in their presence. I felt awash with a sense of relief, as I intuited in his words a spaciousness and acceptance (i.e. for my own humanity and interior gyroscopic leaning towards balance and mutuality).
“In life it is impossible to eschew violence completely. The question arises, Where is one to draw the line? The line cannot be the same for everyone…. Meat-eating is a sin for me. Yet for another person who has always lived on meat and never seen anything wrong in it, to give it up simply to copy me will be a sin.” — Gandhi, GONV, p. 41. (II-69.)
What I take away from these exchanges is the potential complexity of nonviolence, both in its interior, solitary cultivation and the more exterior dialogic dance — between honesty and empathy — with another and how there may be many (sometimes arduous & long/winding) paths that lead to Rome, or Ahimsa…
Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. — Gandhi, GONV, p. 25. (I-175.)
How do we reconcile the ‘violence within our hearts’ with the path we may (sometimes) choose to walk of ‘dialogic ahimsa’ or NVC?
[One sneak preview for a forthcoming call, identifying the unmet need, at the root of our judgement of another, and then broadening our panoramic horizon to discern how this same need may be met by other strategies/individuals]
And how does violence and/or nonviolence color each of our — both inner and outer — experiences?
If nonviolence does not appeal to your heart, you should discard it. — Gandhi, GONV, p. 41, (II-134)
- It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.
Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 – 1948)
One of the most frequent questions I hear when I talk about Nonviolent Communication is “Why Nonviolent?” People feel uneasy. They hear the word nonviolent as a combination of two words, as a negation of violence. They don’t think of themselves as violent, and find it hard to embrace the name.
For some time I felt similarly. I was happier when I heard people talk about Compassionate Communication instead of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), because it felt more positive. After all, isn’t the practice of about focusing on what we want, where we are going, instead of looking at what’s not working? Why would the name be any different?
Like others, I was unaware of the long-standing tradition of nonviolence to which Nonviolent Communication (NVC) traces its origins. Then I learned more about Gandhi. I became more acquainted with the story of the Civil Rights movement. Then I fell in love with the name Marshall Rosenberg gave to this practice, and more so over the years. Here’s why.
Nonviolence as Love
The word nonviolence is the closest literal translation that Gandhi found to the Sanskrit word ahimsa. Although in English this word appears as a negation, in Sanskrit naming a concept or quality through negation instead of directly is sometimes a way of suggesting it is too great to be named. Indeed, avera, the word for love in Sanskrit, literally translates into “non-hatred.”
Hinduism is not the only tradition that honors the unnamable. As a friend pointed out to me when talking about this, Judaism has a similar practice. The name of God is unsayable in Hebrew, being letters without vowels, without instructions for how to read them. Some things are beyond words. And nonviolence is one of them.
Gandhi said: “ahimsa … is more than just the absence of violence; it is intense love.” (Gandhi the Man p. 53)
What is this kind of love? It appears to me that Jesus and Gandhi and those of us following their tradition through the practice of NVC think of love as the full radical acceptance of the humanity of every person, regardless of how unhappy we are with the results of their actions. This love is a commitment to act in ways that uphold that humanity; to care for the wellbeing of the other person even when we are in opposing positions; even when all that we value is at stake.
For the past 15 years I have been dedicating my life to this quest. I want to keep learning and exploring what nonviolence means. I want to live this intense love; model it as best I know how, and more; expose and seek support for the places where I falter; and support others who want the same, who want to grow their capacity to love everyone, including themselves. This blog is, at heart, an attempt to do just that.
Read &/or subscribe to Kashtan’s The Fearless Heart Blog.
See also this blog’s Nonviolence Page