Monday, January 5, 2015

Disagreeing without Hostility: An Exercise in Nonviolence on Cuba

We must do more for our own freedom, and that of others. - Vaclav Havel
Walking in someone else's shoes*
 The debate over the best approach to take in Cuba is one that has raged for years and that over the past month has gained in intensity with the actions taken by the Obama Administration on Cuba. The role of the media and its bias has also generated additional heat on the subject. Particularly painful has been the President Obama's mischaracterization of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown and the release of the spy who planned terrorist acts in the United States and was serving a life sentence for the murder of Americans.

This presents Cubans inside and outside of the island with an opportunity to explore and exercise nonviolent discipline in the present debate at a higher level. In 2002, President Vaclav Havel addressed the Cuban people and offered words that should be heeded today:
Our world, as a whole, is not in the best of shape and the direction it is headed in may well be quite ambivalent. But this does not mean that we are permitted to give up on free and cultivated thinking and to replace it with a set of utopian clichés. That would not make the world a better place, it would only make it worse. On the contrary, it means that we must do more for our own freedom, and that of others.
Things have gotten worse since 2002. Human rights standards internationally are declining with the rise of a modernized and totalitarian China, product of a Western policy that has not and does not live up to its own democratic standards. Recognizing this reality does not permit one to abandon the struggle for freedom but do more, and in our small corner of the world that means how we approach Cuba.

Over 56 years the Castro body count continues to rise. The murders of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012 is but one high profile and recent example. Not as well known are the death threats that followed against his daughter, Rosa María Payá, and the rest of the Payá family. This drove them into exile in 2013. The same people who were organizing mass executions in 1959 are the same ones in charge today of the Castro dictatorship.

Nonviolence requires recognizing these extreme injustices and the justifiable anger that it generates but at the same time channeling into creative and productive means to end the injustices. Some would argue that one must remove their anger, as one takes off a back pack, but that is profoundly mistaken. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a different approach that has proven far more powerful: "The supreme task [of a leader] is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force." Mohandas Gandhi spoke in 1920 of learning "through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world."

This is not hating but harnessing a powerful spiritual energy and channeling it productively. Blowing up and screaming at someone is a waste of that energy that can be channeled into creative solutions to end the injustice.

Antonio Ramón "Tony" Díaz Sánchez, a former prisoner of conscience and secretary general of the Christian Liberation Movment,  rejects hatred and forgives past injustices but refuses to forgive those that are ongoing or injustices that will be carried out in the future. Once again he does not do this out of hatred but out of the knowledge that to forgive ongoing and future evils is to be complicit in them:
"Because what I do not forgive is that the year has started with the same repression that ended last year. What I can not forgive is that in my country, those who govern, do not recognize the need to change to democracy and allow the people to decide in free and pluralistic elections. I can not and do not want to forgive that right now at this instant there are political prisoners in Cuba and that the existing laws guarantee their imprisonment or perhaps the firing squad for others. I do not forgive that young people are living without life projects, while a group in power live as billionaires. Nor do I forgive the complicity of many interests that seek capital now in Cuba without wanting to find out today what is happening there. I do not forgive out of hate. No, no but because forgiving a present and a future of injustice and totalitarianism for your country, is not mercy but complicity with the evil of others."
Taking all the above into consideration on January 2, 2015 came across the following challenge by Stephanie Van Hook of the MettaCenter what she describes as an experiment in nonviolence
"We can train ourselves to transform hostility into its counterparts - compassion and empathy - not because we are not willing to disagree, but because we feel assured that we can disagree and still maintain the dignity of the person with whom we differ.  Like much else in nonviolence, this is an art to cultivate." ... "Listen to someone who holds a difference of opinion from you today. (This can and will be anyone.) What can you learn from them?"
 Are you up to the challenge?

*"Gandhi created this pair of sandals for his “opponent” in South Africa, General Jan Smuts, which were clearly worn very often." This is an interesting take on someone walking in someone else's shoes.

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