Stephen Lewis worked as a drone operator for the United States Air Force. From a military base, in a comfortable chair sitting in front of a computer screen, he held a joystick and targeted and killed human beings because he was following orders from higher-ups. When Amy Goodman asked him what changed in him when he engaged in his first “kill,” he had this to say:
“It makes any kind of relationship difficult. I can’t—I can’t communicate properly with my friends. I have to preface it with ‘I’m sorry, guys. I can’t hang out with you tonight. There’s too much going on right now.’ It’s, in effect, killed every single relationship that I’ve had afterwards.”
If human beings were mere machines, Gandhi implies, we would not suffer when we inflict violence on others. But the truth is, we do. That is the basis of our humanity: when we harm others, we harm ourselves; when we do well for others, we do well for ourselves. Gandhi’s term for this kind of interconnection was “heart unity.” Heart unity is another way of saying empathic and compassionate connection, and he felt that it was a serious goal to strive for in all conflicts. Imagine, if we stopped trying to get other people to change how they live or dress or how they worship (or not), but we turned all of our forces and energy to this one question: how can we get one another to see our common humanity? The answer can be whittled down to one word: nonviolence.
Stephen Lewis left the Airforce and is now speaking out against the United States’ drone program, willing to be indicted for war crimes, and willing to take on the consequences of coming forward. In this way he is reclaiming his humanity, and giving an example of how we can reclaim our own.
Examine how ‘heart unity’ could be achieved in a conflict. How can you contribute?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org