“My faith is as strong as ever. ... There is no hope for the aching world except through the narrow and straight path of nonviolence. Millions like me may fail to prove the truth in their own lives; that would be their failure, never the eternal law.”
Mohandas Gandhi declared these words many years ago, but they continue to be true for us in this time. Each day, we hear story after story about the acts of physical violence that are being perpetrated against individuals, the acts that are being done in the name of wars that are supposed to bring us peace and the violence that results from poverty, racism, abortion and capital punishment.
For several decades, I have been a part of a group called Consistent Life. It is dedicated to the work of ending violence in all forms. Years ago when this group was founded, we were heavily involved in preparing for nuclear war. Though we have shifted from that in some ways, we certainly have not shifted from our dependence upon violence as a solution to the problems that face us. Gandhi is correct that our personal failures to seek non-violence do not change the validity of its power. It is not very difficult to understand that one of our responses to fear and the threat of harm to us or those whom we love is to find a way to defend ourselves or our loved ones, but it is unfortunate that we have not learned that violence does not work. Each time we use violence in an attempt to solve a problem, we create many other problems. It has major side effects that serve to breed other acts of violence.
Though the entire world is victimized by seeing violence as a solution, we have more violence in many ways than other industrialized nations. Our street violence, gun violence and domestic violence outdistance many other nations that are most like the United States. It is a very disturbing commentary for a nation that claims to trust God and wants to see itself as powerful and capable of being a light for others to follow.
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Whether violence occurs in the form of bringing physical harm and death to another person or is demonstrated by bringing psychological and spiritual abuse to another, its effect is always the same. The perpetrator is always wounded as well. At the time, it may not seem to be the case, but human beings were not designed to behave in such a manner. Violence is destructive in every way.
It appears to be addictive as well. All of us who struggle with overcoming addictions to sugar, food, shopping, worry or any other pattern that is beyond our control can bear witness to the difficulty of changing a particular behavior pattern. At times, it becomes unclear that change can occur. We seem to be in that place with violence. We do not know that we can change because too many of us believe that violence is necessary.
We should have learned by now that war does not make us safe, bring us peace or mean that we will be secure. When we choose to live by violence we have to continue to use it to maintain whatever it is we are trying to protect. Because it goes against the spiritual imperative that is designed to lead us to oneness and into true community, it will never be the answer. Yes, human beings have thought it to be, but it was not centuries ago and it is not today. We cannot allow ourselves to turn our heads away from our personal struggles with violence or the collective struggle simply because the path is “narrow and straight” and difficult to follow. Each time we stand against it, both personally and collectively, we reduce its influence to some degree, though it may be small.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.