Our ability to say ‘no’ to what we regard as wrong is as necessary to a democratic society as our ability to say ‘yes’ to the things of which we approve and can accept. A nonviolent, therefore democratic, society does not function on compulsion or coercion, but on freedom and persuasion–in other words, on our ability to choose for ourselves. More than that, the virtue of having a choice must be about issues of consequence.
Do we really possess this valuable capacity today? When we go into a supermarket or superstore, and find that we have thousands of items to choose from, is that choice? It is of deep consequence whether we buy this cereal or the brown shoe in this brand? This is the illusion of choice. There is no real choice within the ideology of consumption, the untruth (and therefore, Gandhi would say, the violence) that the human being needs to buy something to be fulfilled.
Real choice means the choice between nonviolence and violence. The catch is this: until we know what nonviolence is, we cannot choose it freely. For this reason, we must make every effort to learn more about it. It is not weakness or cowardice or even passivity. It is an active, regenerative and truly democratic power that topples dictators and offers a sophisticated and solutionary alternative to the violent system from which we currently suffer.
The next time you are confronted with a tempting or perhaps even a violent thought, challenge its hold over you. You have a choice, even in what you think. It may even be our most important one.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org