More and more I am realizing that nonviolence shows up in many places throughout our daily lives. In the past few weeks, I have enjoyed discovering new places where nonviolence pops up unexpectedly. I recently finished reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how much Charlotte embodies Swadeshi, a key principle that Mahatma Gandhi talked about when explaining nonviolence.
The term Swadeshi comes from Sanskrit and can be summed up by a phrase that today’s progressive movement uses —Think Globally, Act Locally. In his explanation of Swadeshi, Gandhi writes, “If every one of us duly performed [their] duty to [their] neighbor, no one in the world who needed assistance would be left unattended. Therefore one who serves [their] neighbor serves all the world” (Gandhi, Vows and Observances). Additionally, Gandhi adds that for Swadeshi to work, each person must serve according to their own, individual capacity. For some people, their own capacity is serving just one other person. For others, they are capable of serving ten or twenty people. In Charlotte’s case, she knew that she was capable of serving one pig. In doing so, she served the world.
Charlotte’s Web tells the story of a pig named Wilbur. When Wilbur hears that his owner, Mr. Zuckerman, has a plan to butcher him for the Christmas feast, he becomes distressed and fixates on how to avoid his imminent death. Luckily, a spider named Charlotte enters the story, befriends Wilbur, and vows to save her neighbor from this terrible fate.
By designing a campaign to weave key messages into her webs, Charlotte succeeds in changing Mr. Zuckerman’s opinion about Wilbur. Instead of seeing Wilbur as a tasty treat, Mr. Zuckerman and his family soon come to view Wilbur as a thing of beauty. They even take Wilbur to the County Fair to show him off to the rest of the town. Charlotte joins the family for the trip and continues to serve in her own capacity. She weaves one last message into her web for everyone at the fair to see. Wilbur is awarded a special prize, the Zuckerman family goes home proud, and Wilbur lives a long and happy life.
On the outside, Charlotte didn’t have much of an incentive to help Wilbur. Her life would not have changed all that much if Wilbur had turned into bacon. But, Charlotte had faith in the larger purpose of her life. Gandhi writes that, “all living beings are members [of one] another so that a person’s every act has a beneficial or harmful influence on the whole world.” Charlotte’s act of service ultimately pays off in a huge way. Not only does she save Wilbur’s life, but Wilbur then vows to rescue her egg sack from the county fair and protect it until all 514 of Charlotte’s eggs hatch. Wilbur shares Charlotte’s story with her offspring so that they too can be inspired to embody Swadeshi and act in dutiful service of their neighbors.
Despite what mainstream media may say, nonviolence is all around us. The trick is to open our eyes to the possibility of finding nonviolence in unexpected places. My daily challenge now is to ask myself and answer this question: Where will you find nonviolence in your life today?