In Arabic one word for nonviolence is sabr, ‘patience’. Even though it has been statistically proven by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan that nonviolent transitions to democracy, contrary to popular belief, are three times faster than armed insurrections, it is still a controversial topic in social justice–we cannot patiently accept injustice and patiently wait for those of us who are committing harm to change their hearts. “Oh, just wait until it’s the right time. We are not ready for this issue yet. Maybe ten years from now, etc.” Gandhi is not suggesting this kind of passive, powerless so-called patience in the face of systemic injustice. Patience, rather, is the modus operandi by which we treat one another, as people. In other words, we are impatient with systems while we are patient with people.
Think about it: the minute we treat people with impatience, we take the first step in the process of dehumanizing them–feeling thus that we can use a harsh word or aggressive language, thinking that our cause or situation justifies doing so. That is where nonviolence would say, “Be patient. Be gentle. Even if–especially if–it’s hard.” What would happen if we did our best to be sincerely gentle with one another as people while opposing unjust systems? It would require an enormous discipline of mind, to be sure. This is the true art behind nonviolence.
The next time you feel agitated with a person with whom you are in dialog, consider the wisdom of patience.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org