Guest Blog: What We’ve Learned from Studying Nonviolence

Being apart has been difficult. My boyfriend Jeremy is currently in the Peace Corps in Indonesia, while I work in marketing in Tucson, AZ. We are both from the east coast but ventured out to Arizona a year ago. In addition to finding each other out here in the desert, we began to find ourselves, and we began to learn from one another. Jeremy introduced me to Mohandas Gandhi’s teachings and we quickly took up reading not only his books, but Arun Gandhi’s as well.

It has helped make the distance easier since we have books to discuss as well as our plans for the future and how we can bring about peace and nonviolence. We recently finished Gandhi’s autobiography: My Experiments with Truth, and we fell in love with Gandhi’s seminal depiction of his life and pursuit of Swaraj (freedom) for India through what he terms “satyagraha.” Satyagraha refers to nonviolence and the means of pursuing remedies for social injustice through negotiation. Gandhi, at times, seems far too optimistic to me concerning the nature of man; wherein, his satyagraha movement, at its heart, requires the opponent to be sympathetic and understanding for those being oppressed. Nonetheless, satyagraha is simply a practical instrument by which Gandhi seeks to uncover the nature of Truth and Ahimsa (love, or; literally translated to the avoidance of violence). Throughout the novel, we came to understand the ways in which this pursuit extends beyond simply the political movement for which he is most famously known for. 

We read of Gandhi’s quirky approach to medicine and healing, his avoidance of milk and meat, his pursuit of bramacharya (celibacy), and his longing for detachment from all things which tempt him and pull his attention away from God. He says that God is truth, and only in this lifelong pursuit, will we truly find fulfillment for not ourselves, but for our community. He despises the treatment of Indians in both South Africa and later in his life, in India. Therefore, he believes it inevitable to become political, for this is where he sees an opportunity to pragmatically deploy nonviolence. 

In our own lives, Jeremy and I also seek to overcome the stains on our heart and spirit caused by our social conditioning. As Americans, we are attached to materialism, to drama and conflict in everyday life, to being slovenly, and to overlooking injustice. Together, we aspire and commit ourselves to understanding nonviolence and ahimsa on a deeper level. Gandhi took much from the Sermon on the Mount – specifically, the idea of turning the other cheek. Though this seems passive, it is not, for nonviolence is a third option besides violence or passivism. The idea being that it takes a strong spirit to endure abuse and oppression. Over time, through perseverance, the opposition/oppressor can no longer seek to erase their own shame from the destruction they bring upon another human being; eventually giving up their struggle and seeking redress for their own wrongdoings by allowing those they’ve harmed a place at the negotiating table. On the other hand, when the struggle for freedom entails violent means, it is easy for the ruling party to easily rationalize the use of force. Gandhi weaponized going to jail against the British. Indians took pride in being incarcerated for a righteous cause. It became a badge of honor.

Later, in an American context, we again see these tactics employed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to liberate the spirit, body, and mind of African Americans in the United States. King consistently alludes to Gandhi as a primary influence on his own political thinking and actions.

In our lives, Jeremy and I approach every day with a smile. We take pride in those small moments and small encounters with others. Just giving someone a genuine smile, being polite…it goes a long way. We seek to not only spread the idea of nonviolence, but also the idea of compassion and love…that people aren’t as selfish as you think. We are seeking kindness…but it starts with us. It starts with you. Spread the word and live in the light and path of Gandhi.

Additional writing by Jeremy Gonzalez 

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