What My Dog Taught Me About Nonviolent Resistance
As the U.S. lurches from crisis to crisis, from gun violence to the heated debate over abortion, it’s worth revisiting a powerful method for changing minds and hearts: nonviolent resistance. It worked during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and in many other cases. In a comprehensive study of some three hundred nonviolent movements across the globe, Columbia University researchers found the strategy was at least partially successful three-quarters of the time.
But what is nonviolent resistance exactly, and how can we practice it?
To answer those questions, I could have consulted a textbook or watched a dry documentary about Mahatma Gandhi, history’s greatest practitioner of nonviolent resistance. Instead, I turned to my philosopher-dog Parker. Part beagle, part basset hound, he is 100 percent Gandhian. Parker possesses Gandhi’s stubborn streak, and his commitment to nonviolence.
Like Gandhi, Parker knows where he wants to walk and when he wants to walk there. Should I suggest an alternative direction, he expresses his displeasure by planting his not-insignificant weight on his rear haunches and refusing to budge. Sometimes he’ll lie prone, paws splayed, eyes averted. He performs this maneuver — the “Full Gandhi,” I call it — in public: on sidewalks, in pet stores, in the middle of busy streets. It’s embarrassing.
Gandhi didn’t invent the concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence — it dates back at least 2,500 years, to Mahavira, founder of the Jain religion — but Gandhi’s application of it was. What had been reduced to a dietary rule in India, vegetarianism, “emerged from Gandhi’s hands as a weapon — a universal weapon — to fight oppression,” explains his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi.
Gandhi called his new type of nonviolent resistance satyagraha. Satya, Truth Force (or “Soul Force,” as it is sometimes translated). There was nothing passive or squishy about it. It was active, “the greatest and most active force in the world,” he said.
The satyagrahi, or nonviolent resister, is even more active than an armed soldier — and more courageous. It takes no great bravery, or intelligence, to pull a trigger, Gandhi said. Only the truly courageous…