On behalf of those of us who struggle to honor Gandhi's legacy to the world, I would like to wish Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi 'happy birthday!' Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 and had he defied both the assassin's bullet and the aging process, he would have been 146 years old this year.
In theory, the world celebrates 2 October as the International Day of Nonviolence but it is a day that few remember or commemorate meaningfully. Perhaps this is appropriate given the rather desultory progress we have made in making our world nonviolent. Still, while our scorecard might not be what Gandhi would have hoped nearly 68 years after his death, a number of people are making a committed effort to create this nonviolent world. This effort, by its nature, must be multifaceted. Much of it is mundane; some of it profound. Let me tell you about some of these efforts by people I find pretty inspiring.
While our scorecard might not be what Gandhi would have hoped nearly 68 years after his death, a number of people are making a committed effort to create this nonviolent world.
Leon Simweragi lives in Goma, a town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near its borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Leon devotes his time to assisting former child soldiers to rehabilitate their lives through his youth group the Association de Jeunes Visionnaires pour le Développement Communautaire (AJVDC). He gives these young people opportunities to learn to read and write and to engage in youth entrepreneurship and leadership programs to fight against poverty and to promote peace and development in the region. He also organizes activities in which they can participate which strengthen their capacity to perceive that nonviolent cooperation can work, including to resolve conflict. Even sport can perform this function when he can get sufficient equipment for the purpose. You can read more about these efforts, and assist him if you like, here.
Lara Trace Hentz is a Shawnee-Cherokee multi-genre author, poet, journalist and activist. Her work is heavily focused on Native Americans and Native American adoption issues. Given her experience as an adoptee herself, Trace is an advocate for other Native American adoptees ('split feathers') who are trying to discover their biological connections. You can see one of her inspiring websites here.
César Gabriolli is a high school student in Brazil. He is 'trying to understand the world'! César and another young Brazilian, Vitória Bittar, are good friends who spend time talking about 'what we should do to help society improve somehow'. César recently spent some time in a small town in the United States and was particularly challenged by the fundamentalism he encountered there. So he did some research on the psychological origins of fundamentalism so that he could respond to the problem more effectively.
Dr Teck Young Wee, who is better known to his friends as Hakim, is the Singaporean mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, a group of (mainly younger) people committed to ending war not just in Afghanistan but everywhere. If you would like to support their efforts, you can do so here: 'The People's Agreement to Abolish War'. The APVs are also supported by Kathy Kelly who has been nonviolently resisting violence for most of her life and, as we might expect in this distorted world of ours, has the prison record to prove it. Strange, isn't it, how the people who resist violence often end up in jail. Or worse.
Dr Katharina Bitzker is a German scholar engaged in ongoing research to understand the relationship between love – 'one of the central experiences of human existence...with all its many facets (maternal, paternal, filial, sexual, platonic, romantic, spiritual, love of nature etc.)' – and peace: a relationship that has been largely ignored by the academic community. But more importantly in my view, as a mother Katharina is committed to listening to her son Anatol; she does not tell him what to do. This means that the life experiences he generates are his own and the feelings that arise from these experiences reflect his choices, not hers. Parenting at its most powerful but, tragically, so rare.
Irakli Kakabadze is a performance artist and teacher in Georgia. His life includes leadership in two nonviolent revolutions: as a student leader in the anti-Soviet dissident movement from the late 1980s and as one of the leaders of the civil disobedience committee during the nonviolent Rose Revolution in 2003. During his nonviolent struggle for peace and human rights, Irakli has been arrested and assaulted on a number of occasions by the Soviet and Georgian police. He has also been awarded many prizes for his short stories and was one of the co-creators of the well-known electronic song 'Postindustrial Boys'. He is a key figure in developing a facilitation method for conflict transformation and social change through artistic performance and has taught this method for years in different universities, including at Cornell University.
I could keep writing all day about the inspirational people I know who do all they can to make Gandhi's dream – a world without violence – into reality. However, it is time I reported a more painful truth. There is not enough of us! Yet. In fact, we still need another seven billion or so equally committed people. Because until each one of us is willing to make the commitment to work to end violence, our world will be violent. And we each pay the price for that. As do our children. And the planet.
So if you are willing to seriously contemplate where you stand on this most profound of all issues, I invite you to consider why human beings are violent in the first place – see 'Why Violence?' and 'Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice'. – and to consider participating in 'The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth'.
And if you would also like to participate in the effort being made by the people mentioned above and by many other people in 89 countries around the world, you are welcome to sign the online pledge of 'The People's Charter to Create a Nonviolent World'.
Gandhi's dream of a world without violence might be fanciful. But, as John Lennon once sang, he is 'not the only one'. Many of us share this dream. Are you a dreamer too?
Robert J. Burrowes