Gandhi and Non-Violent Conflict Resolution
The world in which we live is increasingly violent, and with that violence come an additionally complex set of circumstances in which people are forced to live. Given the fact that every man, woman and child on earth today is a potential target for random acts of terrorist violence at a moment’s notice, one wonders if there is a way for the conflicts of today to be resolved without having to resort to violence as a means of ending violence. It is because of this question that Gandhi’s philosophies of non-violent conflict resolution will be the focus of this research. Gandhi’s ideas are as relevant today as they were when he first espoused them over a century ago, which is why every reader of this research will find it relevant and interesting. Ultimately, upon completion of this research, not only will a powerful figure from history be better understood, but his ideas of ways to change the world with words and ideas rather than guns and bullets will prove to have value in today’s troubled times.
Gandhi in Historical Context
Understanding how Gandhi developed his often controversial belief system first requires a brief review of the times in which he lived, and died. Mohandas K. Gandhi did not start out as an advocate of non-violence, or as any kind of advocate for such causes; rather, he was born the son of a politician, and he originally sought a career in law. While his law career foundered, he soon found himself confronted with the fact that the Indian people were not truly free, as they were burdened by the imposition of British rule, which deprived them of their freedom and dignity at every turn (Nojeim, 2004). Rather than trying to overcome this injustice with aggression and terrorism, Gandhi instead chose to embrace religion, and use the principles he learned through his faith as a means of trying to convince others that through peaceful means, freedom is in fact possible. Sadly, Gandhi was shot to death as a consequence of his controversial beliefs, but his legacy remains to this very day.
The Religion, Doctrine, Motivations and Beliefs of Gandhi
Without a doubt, the discovery of religion was a major force in driving Gandhi to the lengths he took to promote his agenda of peace. For Gandhi, the Bhagavad Gita represented everything that he longed for- a shift from industrialization, militarization, greed and violence to a focus on people, peace and religious pursuits as the way to change the world-one person at a time (Boersema & Brown, 2006). Within a religious context lies one of the main pillars of Gandhi’s beliefs- ends and means. What is meant by this is that Gandhi stated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the ends of any pursuit are not justified, even if the end is just (Gandhi & Merton, 1965); therefore, even for those who professed to be seeking peace, if that peace was obtained through intimidation, assault, murder and the deprivation of civil rights, it is not to be pursued. This is the type of a situation that confronted Gandhi as a young man growing up in British-occupied India; under the guise of a peaceful and orderly society, British authorities routinely subjected Indians to the worst possible living conditions, violence, and a holding back from their full potential not only as Indians, but also as human beings.
Gandhi was truly a man who was fortified by his faith; at a time when an intense power struggle was afoot in his nation, his belief that his god would protect him from his enemies was the equivalent of a solid steel shield, as it was something that carried Gandhi through the imprisonment, confrontation, and controversy with which he would have to contend. His faith in fact added many “soldiers” to his cause; the level of devotion that he held true to, no matter what the established power base threw at him, forged strong bonds on the part of those who were seeking a better way of life- something which Gandhi was able to give to them with abundance.
So powerful was the power of Gandhi as a leader and an inspiration for those who sought change in a chaotic world that he in fact would gain highly impressive results by doing absolutely nothing. This doing nothing manifested itself in the many hunger strikes that Gandhi endured, the weeks upon end where he remained stationery and silent, and in the quiet demonstrations that he staged (Nojeim, 2004). All in all, through inaction and silence, Gandhi was able to do and say a great deal. This success can likewise be attributed to the intense faith that others had in Gandhi; so powerful was his influence, and so well respected was he by other equally religious individuals that when he did something-or did nothing- people took notice.
Tragically, it was an assumption on the part of Gandhi that non-violence was strong enough to defeat violence which was his undoing. So strong was the hatred of some in regard to Gandhi that the only way they saw to silence him was to literally do so-by killing him. Where the individuals who killed Gandhi turned out in retrospect to be wrong themselves was in the assumption that Gandhi’s message would stop with his lifespan.
With a firm understanding of Gandhi in place-the man, his beliefs, life and historical context, it is valid to present some personal reflections about what Gandhi believed and did, in order to bring the research full circle. First, it is important to realize from where Gandhi was coming in regard to his mindset. The thought comes to mind that because of the fact that Gandhi grew up in a household immersed in politics, and more precisely the control of powerless people by powerful people, he was probably swayed toward the idea of breaking free from that cycle and devoting his life to social change in a way that was different from the militarized solutions that the government forces of the time chose as a catalyst. At that point, the stage was set for Gandhi to escape from the establishment and set out on his own path in life. Once Gandhi achieved religious enlightenment, the transformation was complete, and he set forth on a mission to liberate his fellow Indians from the oppression of a British government which cared very little for these people who were essentially without a national identity and were always forced to live like indentured servants to a cruel master than members of a free society.
At this point, is abundantly clear that Gandhi literally gave his life to try to destroy the idea that the only way to end violence is to meet it head on with more violence, and indeed, that is a noble pursuit. However, as a personal aside, the actual achievement of non-violence through non-violent means can never been completely realized for a variety of reasons. First, one the most basic level, being able to do this would first require the conversion of the minds of those who are the perpetrators of the violence, and this is unlikely to happen because of the fact that the violence is often driven by the desire to gain wealth, land, and power. If these individuals threw away their only weapon-violence- they would essentially be unarmed and would have to basically surrender their position.
Second, there is a level of paranoia that exists in the world today that makes it impossible for weapons and threats to be thrown away because the paranoia dictates that many do not trust others to essentially lie down their weapons, and in such a setting, there will always be aggressors in the world.
Third, in tying together the first two points, consider for a moment the modern terrorist of the sort that perpetrated the evils of 9/11 and other similar atrocities around the world. These are people whose religious fervor matches that of Gandhi’s, albeit in the opposite direction, for while Gandhi embraced and loved the elements of peace and tranquility in the world, the terrorist extremist is engrained with the mindset that there are enemies that must be eradicated, literally, through violence of the most random and devious sort. In the case of such individuals, there is as much of a chance of changing their ideologies as there is in getting the proverbial leopard to change his spots. Thus, while not a personal preference of the researcher, there is a level of violence that will always exist from the vantage point of terrorists and other such extremists and there must always be a corresponding level of violence on hand for the defense and response of such evil.
Finally, the mention of the existence of evil allows for some discussion of a more theological sort in regard to some fair critiques of Gandhi’s ideologies. While peace, harmony and faith are powerful weapons that must be kept at the ready to combat the evil that exists in today’s world, this defense is more of the sort that exists on the abstract level- the combating of immorality with faith-based initiatives, the education of young people in the ways of light and peace as opposed to debasement and aggression. When one is faced with a world where there are those who kill or maim as a daily activity, there is an amount of force that must answer that sort of evil action. Admittedly, on the part of the researcher, there was a tendency to stereotype all non-violent individuals like Gandhi as outdated relics, but in reality, while there are areas of disagreement with his ideology, there is a place for his peaceful beliefs, for to totally discard them would be to hand the world over to the worst people who live in it. What has been learned through this research is that there is room in the world for differing ideas, and especially for dreamers like Gandhi, for dreams are the seeds from which new realities ultimately sprout.
MK Gandhi was a man who believed so forcefully in peace that he sacrificed himself to violent forces to advance his cause. In conclusion, perhaps that is the most powerful lesson to be learned from the life, and death of Gandhi-that good never dies, as long as there is one person who keeps it alive in their heart. Even as Gandhi’s heart ceased to beat, what he started took on a life of its own, and continues to survive to this day.
Boersema, D. & Brown, K. G. (Eds.). (2006). Spiritual and Political Dimensions of Nonviolence and Peace. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Gandhi, M., & Merton, T. (1965). Gandhi on Non-Violence. New York: New Directions Pub.
Nojeim, M. J. (2004). Gandhi and King: The Power of Nonviolent Resistance. Westport, CT: Praeger.