One of my favorite films is Gandhi. I remember seeing this film as a child and becoming fascinated with the man. I was inspired by his bravery and his ability to maintain love for those with whom he found himself in conflict. As he fought against injustice, he did so non-violently and was able to see that the ignorance and fear that caused others to be hateful and intolerant was the same ignorance and fear stirring inside himself.
There is a small scene that replays itself in my mind a lot. In the scene, Gandhi is teaching two lessons at once. One lesson is being taught verbally. The other through his actions. The verbal lesson is making the case that the non-violent resistance he is promoting is NOT passive. He is explaining that it is possible to fight against oppression without dehumanizing the oppressor.
Gandhi's non-verbal actions are teaching a more subtle message. He is showing his colleagues that if they are to fight against oppression, they must be humble enough to root out the same tendencies within themselves. As he says, "I wish to embarrass all those who treat us as slaves," he takes the tray from the servant and becomes the servant himself. This act of humility is his attempt to hold up a mirror to them without attacking them personally.
He then presents his most powerful message. "I want to change their minds, not kill them for weaknesses we all possess." This is a powerful lesson, one that I too often forget.
When I get wrapped up in confilct, large or small, I often fail to look at my own weaknesses. My emotions, my ego, my ignorance, my fear, and my desire to be right often prevent me from taking a more objective look at the conflict. The flip side of this is that I can also be too passive. In an attempt to prevent conflict or ease tension, I capitulate, apologize and scramble to make peace, or I just remain silent.
Neither approach is optimal.
In the first case, my words and actions lead to pain and an escalation of the conflict. I am becoming an aggressor, taking an eye for an eye approach that Gandhi says would leave us both blind.
In the second approach, I become so passive that I tacitly comply with something I view as wrong. Martin Luther King, who was strongly influenced by Gandhi, said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." By enabling others to be unjust, we become a part of the injustice. Our silence and our passivity become detrimental not only to ourselves, but to those who need to be challenged.
So the ghost of Gandhi asks us to take a stand, but in doing so recognize that we must simultaneously acknowledge that the fear and ignorance that is at the root of OTHERS' unjust actions, is the same fear and ignorance within ourselves. If we fail to make this recognition, we risk becoming disconnected from our greatest asset when dealing with conflict...love.
When we become disconnected from love, we can justify many wrong actions. Christ taught us to love our enemies. Gandhi teaches us to not see others as enemies in the first place. This is a challenge, but it becomes easier as we practice meditation and unravel the illusion of separateness we have constructed by the various identities we have constructed. These identities such as nationality, religion, gender, etc. are all essentially artificial, but we operate as though they are very substantial. Meditation reveals their lack of substance and allows us to see the deep connection we have to everyone and everything. The clearer that connection becomes, the easier it is to maintain love while standing up to injustice non-violently.
Perhaps the most powerful scene in the film is when Gandhi is in the middle of a hunger strike and a Hindu man comes to Gandhi to confess the murder of a Muslim child. The man is convinced he is going to hell. Gandhi tells the man he knows a way out of hell. He asks the man to adopt a Muslim orphan and raise him as a Muslim.
This powerful scene demonstrates the only way to overcome our conflicts....LOVE. We must take the time each day to journey within ourselves to stay connected to the source of love. If we do so, we have a chance to live as Gandhi did, challenging the fear and ignorance in others and ourselves while maintaining a heart of love.