In early August I was in the Black Hills for an eight day training program in the nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi. Twenty of us gathered for the fifth training in the U.S. of the Satyagraha Institute. Gandhi coined the word Satyagraha as his term to describe an alternative to violence. He had earlier considered love as the alternative but discarded it as it had so many variations of meaning. Loosely translated from the Sanskrit, Satyagraha means "holding firmly to Truth," with a capital T.
Although it's a difficult word to pronounce, I prefer Satyagraha to the English translation of "nonviolence." For me, that's a double negative. You take the word violence and give it a negative prefix. Linguistically, there needs to be a positive alternative.
For most Americans, we have been culturally conditioned to believe there is no alternative to violence. Dialogue is sacrificed on the altar of partisanship. Difference is resolved at the point of a gun. Violence has become an easy alternative in our language, our speech, our games, our interactions with others and the world around us. Everyone votes for larger and larger war budgets, to fight our perpetual and pervasive enemies around the globe.
Those who are discerning should realize, we are quickly approaching that time in human history when we must make the choice, first suggested by Martin Luther King, Jr., between nonviolence and nonexistence.
After all, violence is learned behavior. So is the alternative. For the purposes of this column, I'm suggesting "harmony" as an alternative term for nonviolence.
One of the hallmarks of this fifth Black Hills gathering was the sense of camaraderie and harmony that developed over the eight days. Although people came from different backgrounds, countries, races and cultures, with time and effort misunderstandings were clarified and relationships forged. We were able to not only learn conflict resolution skills but practice them; not only hear about speaking truth in love but actually do it.
There will never be another basketball team like the 1990's Chicago Bulls. Watching them play as a team was magical. Sometimes one sees the same magic in a college team. You can see it occasionally at SDSU. You understand what I mean! It's that perfect pass at the perfect time that leads to an amazing basket. It's as if the team members are connected to each other by this invisible thread. I'm certain those moments of harmony don't happen in a vacuum. It takes practice. It takes knowing the habits and tendencies of the other. It takes meditation practice before a game with the likes of a coach like Phil Jackson. It takes a deeper knowing, like when a husband and wife of fifty years start to say the same thing at the same time.
I had my first experience of the Rick Holm choir some weeks ago. What a disparate group of volunteers and what wonderful harmony. I'm sure they practice their music. But active and busy folks that they are, there was obviously something else that united them in song; a sense of purpose and service. What they brought to our gathering helped unite us all. There's something magic, something healing, something beautiful in the offering of harmony in music.
My parents had an agreement that they would never argue or fight in front of us children. As best I can remember, they kept that agreement. It made for a certain degree of harmony in the home. It didn't mean we were never in difficulty for our childish mistakes but our parents modeled a relationship of harmony that had an important effect on our family life.
In the same way we can identify with harmony or disharmony in the classroom or the workplace. So many seem to tolerate months, even years of unhappiness, in the place where they spend most of their time. On the other hand, where people have learned to mesh their talents and liabilities for the good of the whole, work can be a joyful endeavor.
What I'm suggesting is that harmony is not just possible in human relationships but it is the way of the universe. Harmony is the music of the spheres. Harmony is the inheritance of creation and the Creator. Harmony is our inner intention and identity. Satyagraha is being in relationship with this capital T truth.
Violence is an aberration, a special problem of our species that with time and effort, with practice and a sense of purpose, we can eradicate. Let's get to it!