Gandhi understood that nonviolence was the active and radical expression of empathy. There was no one, in his book, who did not deserve kindness, respect, and access to the goods that meet basic human needs. Including those people with whom he disagreed, even passionately. So when someone accused him of “supporting the British war effort” when he okayed the sale of khadi blankets to the British military, he stood behind his decision, stating that it was “not proper” for him to inquire “whether the blankets were for the use of soldiers or for someone else.” It would be a different case altogether, he went on, if they were buying poison or some kind of weapons. In that case, the seller has every right to ask for more information, certificates, etc. in regard to the purchase, but not blankets. Not food. Not water. In his words, “I for one will not hesitate to give water or food to a soldier who comes to me with hands red with murder.” The reason? He doesn’t waste his breath, “My humanity would not let me do otherwise.” He then welcomed disagreement,”If you think that I erred, you are at liberty to denounce me. If you think that a nonviolent man may not sell rice or blankets to soldiers, then you are welcome to your interpretation of nonviolence.” His statement teaches us something valuable about his vision: how to enact nonviolence can be subject to interpretation, and he did not seek to make it an ideology, a stick we can use to beat someone into submission. It’s an open hand, an invitation to take what you need and leave what you do not. Supporting human needs is never supporting a war effort anyway. It will always be a peace effort. Let’s not confuse the two.
Where do you see popular opinion maintain the belief that human rights should be denied to those with whom we disagree? Do you see it in movements, too? How can you interrupt that thinking?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org