The great little man

Sean and Julia, Gareth, Anne and Breeda,
Their lives are bigger than any big idea. — U2, Peace on Earth

On Sep­tem­ber 21, the inter­na­tion­al day of peace, ter­ror­ists killed dozens of civil­ians in a shop­ping mall, includ­ing chil­dren and preg­nant women. Most vio­lence in the world is no longer in the news. Drugs mur­ders in Mex­i­co, gueril­la wars in Con­go. Vio­lence always moves in cir­cles. After the attack in Nairo­bi, the dan­ger is that out­breaks of vio­lence will occur against Mus­lims and peo­ple with a Soma­li background.


Today is also a ‘day of’, a ‘day of non­vi­o­lence’. A trib­ute to a great lit­tle man: Mahat­ma Ghan­di. He was born 144 years ago. His life was char­ac­ter­ized by the search for truth. In his work as a lawyer as well as in his per­son­al life. He was veg­e­tar­i­an, celi­batar­i­an in a life­long mar­riage, and strove to be with­out pos­ses­sions. In South Africa he devel­oped his strat­e­gy of non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. He lat­er con­tin­ued this strat­e­gy when he led India to inde­pen­dence from the British.

In his book about non­vi­o­lence, Kurlan­sky imme­di­ate­ly makes the point that no lan­guage has a word to express this con­cept, except that it is ‘not vio­lence’. This indi­cates that vio­lence is fun­da­men­tal to the human con­di­tion. The strat­e­gy of non­vi­o­lence requires more cre­ativ­i­ty, per­se­ver­ance and most of all will­ing­ness to suf­fer. It is a method of resis­tance that refus­es to harm human life, like Ghan­di says:

It is quite prop­er to resist and attack a sys­tem, but to resist and attack its author is tan­ta­mount to resist­ing and attack­ing one­self. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are chil­dren of one and the same Cre­ator, and as such the divine pow­ers with­in us are infi­nite. To slight a sin­gle human being is to slight those divine pow­ers and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world.


War and ter­ror­ism arise when we divide our­selves in eth­nic­i­ties, reli­gions, coun­tries. We should look for the anti­dote in the uni­ty of human­i­ty. Gand­hi was among oth­ers inspired by Tol­stoy, who wrote:

One thought con­stant­ly emerged among dif­fer­ent nations, name­ly that in every indi­vid­ual a spir­i­tu­al ele­ment is man­i­fest­ed […] that strives to unite with every­thing of a like nature to itself, and attains this aim through love.

Tol­stoy pos­es the ques­tion: what if we would apply the law of love, that Jesus com­mands in the Ser­mon on the Mount, not only to our per­son­al lives but to the lev­el of society?

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but who­ev­er strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the oth­er also. If any­one sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Who­ev­er com­pels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to bor­row from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neigh­bor, and hate your ene­my.’ But I tell you, love your ene­mies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mis­treat you and per­se­cute you, that you may be chil­dren of your Father who is in heav­en. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.

The Dalai Lama, who men­tions Gand­hi as his polit­i­cal exam­ple, indi­cates the same thing when he talks about com­pas­sion. It stems from the belief that all peo­ple are the same: they want to be hap­py and they don’t want to suf­fer. If you see peo­ple in this way, espe­cial­ly your ene­mies, you can treat them as your broth­ers and sisters.


Gand­hi made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice to his phi­los­o­phy when he was assas­si­nat­ed by a polit­i­cal extrem­ist in 1948. What is the sense of pro­claim­ing all these ‘days of’, when appar­ent­ly it has so lit­tle to do with real­i­ty? I do not think I have ever expe­ri­enced from so close an amount of vio­lence like I have late­ly. My instinc­tive reac­tion is to buy a gun to defend myself. But the cir­cle of vio­lence must be bro­ken. We can only over­come evil with good. Peo­ple like Gand­hi are the stars in the sky that show that it is possible.

Are you jeal­ous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this love to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liq­uid in cups!
They swim the huge flu­id freedom.


Quotes come from these books:

  • Mark Kurlan­sky, Non­vi­o­lence: The his­to­ry of a dan­ger­ous idea
  • M.K. Gand­hi, An auto­bi­og­ra­phy: The sto­ry of my exper­i­ments with truth
  • Leo Tol­stoy, A let­ter to a Hin­du (gratis op
  • Jelalud­din Rumi, The book of Love (the poem)