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JONAH Organizer Comments on Non-Violence

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“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”Mahatma Gandhi, whom this gathering is in honor of, said this. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

This thought sums up my feelings about nonviolence.

The definition of nonviolence goes something like, “using peaceful means, not force, to bring about political or social change.” The takeaway there is the change part – nonviolence is an action.  It is an action that is respectful of all people in an attempt to bring about peace, but it is an action.

Usually what stirs us to action is some sort of anger – anger about homeless children, anger about guns in schools, anger about women being abused, and anger about minorities being mistreated.  And while many of us want to react to that anger, a re-action can produce harm.  It may be better to remember that anger stems from the love of something – angry because you love children, schools, women, all persons.  Focusing on that love can sustain us into thoughtful, long-term action that gets results.

To act how?

To take action in the way we wish the world to be – by setting an example. This very thing produces change that spreads like weeds – you may not notice an impact this season but next season there are a lot more. In JONAH of the Chippewa Valley, with which I am the Community Organizer, we do this by building relationships. Relationships with everyone. Being overwhelmed by how to have an impact on something in our community or world is a real problem, but action is essential.  To find clarity about what to do we must talk to each other, ask questions, and get to know each other.

Why? Two reasons.

1. It is through building a relationship with someone that you are gathering knowledge for either thoughtful action or to gain understanding to quell anger.  It is also through relationship building you realize you have more in common with someone than you do different. Gandhi also said, “Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” Relationships – getting to know someone, understanding their actions, and nurturing that relationship can diffuse violent feelings of anger and pride.

2. NOT taking action can be the same as being violent.

Let me explain this.

Take those same issues that produce anger in us – a sign to act, not react, but act nonetheless. Now imagine what happens when you know about homelessness or abuse and let it continue. Isn’t not acting to change something simply allowing it to be the same?  Are we not contributing toward violence when we allow it to happen?

What is the definition of violence? It is “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.”  This does not mean that the person doing the behavior is also the one using the physical force.  Our behavior of inaction INVOLVES not only the physical force of others to harm someone else, but also involves our INTENTION to not act. By not acting we choose to produce hurt in ourselves and knowingly let force and damage to go on. Violence happens on a scale, too. Other forms of violence can be: verbal abuse, racism, genderism, judgement, exclusion, and disregarding or discounting others. One more Gandhi quote for you, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”

There are people suffering at the hand of violence in Eau Claire, in Wisconsin, and in our larger world.  When we hear about it and are angered it is our internal call to act.  And we want to act nonviolently – with knowledgeable intention to change things to be the way we wish it to be.

At JONAH we bring people together because we believe in people and have hope for a better tomorrow.  We do our best to set an example. It is not easy to be the example!  This is why we must act together – it is easier to be the change we wish to see when we are together.  So I encourage you today to do two things:

– Build a relationship with someone you didn’t think you could.

– Think about how you can start acting like you wish the world already did.

THAT is nonviolence to me