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Gandhi: an approach to nonviolent social change
The book ``Conquest of Violence'' by Joan V. Bondurant (University of
California Press, 1965, ISBN 0-520-00145-1) is an excellent summary of
both the why and the how of satyagraha, Gandhi's science of social change.
Although nonviolence is the core of satyagraha, there is a lot more to
it than that. Here are some relevant points; quoted material is from
- The idea is not to beat the other side, but to come to
a workable agreement that respects the needs of both sides.
Rather than investing a lot of energy hating the opponent, try
to see things from their side. Better yet, work out a
solution that makes them look good. ``Every effort should be
made to win over the opponent by helping him (where this is
consistent with the satyagrahi's true objectives) thereby
demonstrating sincerity to achieve an agreement with, rather
than a triumph over, the adversary.''
- The first step in a satyagraha campaign is to try to redress
grievances through established procedures. If you don't first
try to work within the system, how can you claim that the
system is unresponsive?
- ``Refrain from insults and swearing. Protect opponents from
insult or attack, even at the risk of life.'' There is a message
here for people who like to flame. Personal attacks tend to derail
debate from the constructive to the combative.
- Although most people associate Gandhi with civil disobedience,
this is one of the last, most extreme forms of protest, to be
undertaken only after a long list of other means have failed.
Gandhi's autobiography is, of course, highly recommended, and I also
thought Richard Attenborough's movie ``Gandhi'' was an excellent
introduction to the topic.
Once a man came to Gandhi and admitted that he had killed a Muslim in
a religious conflict. He felt badly that he had orphaned the Muslim's
son. Gandhi suggested that he raise the orphaned son as his own, but
insisted that the boy be raised Muslim. This story, to me, sums up
the method in a nutshell, especially the principal of respecting the
other's point of view.
It is all too easy to demonize the opponent. So often, though, when
I find myself hating, later I realize that I am at war with some
aspect of myself that I see in the opponent. So this important work,
of trying to understand other points of view, ultimately leads to
better integration with some of the exiled parts of my own psyche.
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John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 1996/01/21 20:43:30