I received an interesting press release through the email the other day from an arts publicity organization in India. It was announcing a special performance of the score to the movie about the life of The Mahatma Gandhi, in honour of the United Nations declaring October 2nd, his birthday, International Non-Violence Day.
I have to say I’m having an extremely hard time with that proclamation: International Non-Violence Day. The only thing I can think of is that some bright spark at the U.N. figured they could kill two birds with one stone by honouring Gandhi’s birthday and throwing a bone to India in recognition of their new status as a rising economic power. I can’t think of any other reason for even considering such a meaningless gesture.
You don’t have to look very far to see how empty the proclamation is. I’m not even referring to any of the wars that are currently ongoing around the globe right now, or the actions of oppressive governments everywhere to curtail the rights of their peoples. Sure they all reflect badly on our ability to live in peace or to be considered advocates for a non-violent life, but they are only symptoms of a deeper-seated malaise.
As a species, our predilection for violence amongst ourselves probably started the first time one group of early men thought another’s hunting territory was better. There was never any thought of seeing whether the two groups combining forces and sharing the territory in an effort to feed both tribes might be to everybody’s benefit. No, it’s always “us” or “them” with never any thought given to “we.”
When the empire builders started up, Phillip of Macedonia and his son Alexander, who were followed eventually by the first great Western Empire – Rome, it meant whole new reasons for fighting. Most of them had less to do with the survival of the tribe and more to do with personal glory, although those who fought against Rome would have thought of their war as battles for survival more than anything else.
Once these guys set the precedent of trying to make the world a better place by giving everyone the present of civilization whether they liked it or not (because we know what’s good for you even if you don’t, you ignorant, barbarian savages), everyone decided they wanted to take a stab at it.
The Mongol Hordes in the East, under the various Khans, taught everyone the value of fierceness and swordplay from the back of a horse. The Islamic world got its own back for the Crusades by invading and occupying great chunks of Europe and keeping the West out of the Middle East from 1200 until the end of World War One. Meanwhile, the Spanish and the French took turns occupying most of Central and Western Europe. When they fell back, the Austro-Hungarian Empire took over until the end of World War One.
That doesn’t even begin to cover what was going on outside of Europe, when it was discovered there were other countries needing the benefits of a good Christian/Muslim upbringing. From the Western Hemisphere to the Indian Ocean and China, colonial empires expanded and contracted with the passing of the years. There were also civil wars tearing countries apart because of differences in opinion on religion and economic issues that left thousands, if not millions, dead and deep scars in the social fabric that have yet to heal even to this day.
Every time there was some sort of minor disagreement between countries, they would solve it by meeting on the battlefields of Europe and come to a civilized agreement by killing each other’s peasants by the thousands. People like George Bush and his cronies are simply carrying on the age-old tradition of getting your own way by any means necessary.
It’s become such an ingrained part of our social fabric that the majority of us live our lives with the understanding that if we ever want to accomplish anything we’re going to have to resort to violence of some sort. It doesn’t have to be physical all the time either; emotional and psychological violence can be even more effective in a social setting.
How often have you had to resort to some sort of intimidating action to get what you’ve wanted from someone who wasn’t willing to follow through on a contract? From withholding payment to threatening court action, you are still using coercion or threats instead of trying to seek a peaceful resolution to your problem.
What’s truly unfortunate is how difficult it is to come to a compromise with people, and it’s not until you offer to escalate matters that some people will listen to you. We’ve become so used to that sort of behaviour that it seems the majority won’t do anything unless forced to. It’s like you won’t be taken seriously until you put a gun to someone’s head.
In some instances, violence or other forms of non-passive behaviour can’t be avoided, and a person or a country is left with no recourse but to explore other means. For far too many of this world’s people, and especially our leaders, violence remains their first option and other means are dismissed far too quickly.
For the United Nations to come out and say that from now on October Second will be considered a day for honouring Non-Violent behaviour as a mark of respect to Mahatma Gandhi is a bit ridiculous. Those who practice non-violent resistance in most societies these days are treated like outcasts and unpatriotic because they don’t think what their government does in their name with violence is something to be proud of or to condone.
Oh sure, it’s all right when people do it to other countries against governments we’re told it’s all right to disagree with, but when people at home do the same sort of thing, that’s different. Our governments would never deny us our rights or throw us in jail without trial like others do; we’re a democracy after all. When we use violence it’s all right and not something to be protested against.
When the United Nations was formed in 1945, it was with the purpose of creating a body where the world’s nations would be able to resolve their differences without having to resort to warfare. The only problem is that most countries simply ignore the idea of a peaceful resolution and then proceed to heap scorn on the U.N. for not accomplishing anything.
Until governments begin to practice the type of non-violence advocated by The Mahatma, October second will simply serve as a reminder of how far we as a species have to go before we can really call ourselves civilized.