I am not patient.  People are starving right now.  Animals are suffering right now.  The planet is struggling to breathe right now.  So, how do we move toward a more just and compassionate world… right now!?

I’ve spent time picketing in the streets, writing members of congress, challenging unjust laws, helping grassroots groups learn and grow.  What I’ve learned is that the power of self-understanding and personal responsibility can sometimes provide a quicker and more successful route to social change.  Not only is it quicker, it is necessary.

I recently read Gandhi on Non-violence: Selected Text from Gandhi’s ‘Non-violence in Peace and War.’ It was edited with an introduction and chapter summaries by Thomas Merton.  The last chapter includes a few references to Gandhi’s self-observed failure — that he didn’t bring lasting Nonviolence to India.  Gandhi attributes this to his focusing on Nonviolence as a tactic rather than Nonviolence as a way of life.

Merton puts this poetically in the introduction when he says, “[For Gandhi] the spirit of non-violence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself.  The whole Gandhian concept of non-violent action and satyagraha is incomprehensible if it is thought to be a means of achieving unity rather than as the fruit of inner unity already achieved” (6, italics original).

While Gandhi felt Nonviolence in his heart, the masses were using Nonviolence mostly as a tactic to achieve independence and to gain power.  Gandhi came to see the focus on civil disobedience and political tactics as short-lived.  Once political advances were made, people abandoned Nonviolence as a discipline and became the new aggressors — abusing “power over” rather than celebrating “power with” (this is a recurring theme on the nature of power).

Gandhi laments that he should have spent more time and energy on the constructive aspects of Nonviolence (rebuilding a social infrastructure, self-sustaining industries, and meaningful occupations, etc.).  He wrote, “In placing civil disobedience before constructive work I was wrong, and I did not profit from the Himalayan blunder that I had committed” (72).  He goes on to say, “I have admitted my mistake.  I thought our struggle was based on non-violence, whereas in reality it was no more than passive resistance, which essentially is a weapon of the weak.  It leads naturally to armed resistance whenever possible” (75).

This is the direction NonviolenceUnited.org has taken with our “A Life Connected” project.  We focus on reaching and reminding individuals to live their lives connected to their values, building a social strategy around Nonviolence as a way of life rather than focusing on temporary gains by simply using Nonviolence as a political strategy.

As we’ve said before, Nonviolence can be a way of life and Nonviolence can be a strategy. But for powerful long-lasting change, Nonviolence as a way of life IS the strategy.