Non-violence requires great patience. - Mohandas Gandhi
A dear friend of mine after learning of my commitment to nonviolence as a method of resistance confuses (I hope ) the terms passive resistance and passive aggressiveness . October 2 is Mohandas Gandhi's birthday and it has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Nonviolence what better day than today to reflect on nonviolence contrasting it with passive aggressive behavior?
While on the surface the terms passive aggressive and passive resistance may appear similar. The only characteristic that they share in common is stubbornness. Otherwise they are polar opposites.
Passive aggressiveness is a type of violence and is considered a personality disorder. Passive resistance better known as nonviolent resistance or civil disobedience is a rejection of violence both in action and in its Gandhian aspect in spirit. Mohandas Gandhi along with other Indians in South Africa coined the term Satyagraha which has as its root meaning "holding on to truth." Gandhi stopped using the term passive resistance because although nonviolent there was nothing passive about it.
Mohandas Gandhi's nonviolent resistance is also the antithesis of communism because it rejects class struggle as violent which is why during his life time Soviet writers dismissed him as a reactionary utopian. Presently many honor Mohandas Gandhi the icon but reject his cause as impractical.
When I talk about the contaminated moral atmosphere, I am not talking just about the gentlemen who eat organic vegetables and do not look out of the plane windows. I am talking about all of us. We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unchangeable fact and thus helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all - though naturally to differing extents - responsible for the operation of the totalitarian machinery. None of us is just its victim. We are all also its co-creators.
It surely makes much more sense to operate in the sphere of causes than simply to respond to their effects. By then, as a rule, the only possible response is by equally immoral means. To follow that path means to continue spreading the evil of irresponsibility in the world, and so to produce precisely the poison on which totalitarianism feeds. I favor "anti-political politics," that is, politics not as the technology of power and manipulation, of cybernetic rule over humans or as the art of the utilitarian, but politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and serving them. I favor politics as practical morality, as service to the truth, as essentially human and humanly measured care for our fellow humans. It is, I presume, an approach which, in this world, is extremely impractical and difficult to apply in daily life. Still, I know no better alternative.
This is an implicit rejection of Machiavellian power politics. This past week at the San Francisco Freedom Forum participants heard an explicit rejection of power politics from Aung San Suu Kyi who affirmed:
I do not believe that means can be separated from ends.The means that you use to achieve your ends will in the end color those very ends themselves. If we are to march along the road to freedom full of hatred and full of the instincts of violence what we find at the end of the road will not be freedom but another kind of prison. A prison that we have constructed for ourselves through our own feelings of hatred and violence.How would this anti-political politics manifest itself? The late Vaclav Havel in the above cited 1984 essay provided an answer, referencing his martyred mentor:
When Jan Patočka wrote about Charter 77, he used the term "solidarity of the shaken'. He was thinking of those who dared resist impersonal power and to confront it with the only thing at their disposal, their own humanity. Does not the perspective of a better future depend on something like an international community of the shaken which, ignoring state boundaries, political systems, and power blocs, standing outside the high game of traditional politics, aspiring to no titles and appointments, will seek to make a real political force out of a phenomenon so ridiculed by the technicians of power the phenomenon of human conscience?Havel later demonstrated in action not only with the nonviolent Velvet Revolution of 1989, but with his Presidency and afterwards organizing gatherings of Forum 2000 and maintaining solidarity with dissident movements around the world until the end of his life.
Mohandas Gandhi, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi and thankfully many others serve as exemplars for nonviolent activists to learn from. Nonviolent resistance is about first recognizing then resisting and overcoming the defects in ones own character while at the same time using moral and ethical means to achieve moral and ethical ends.