Nonviolence vs. Love

I attended a talk the other night by Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, the opening of a Peace Studies Conference held at the College of St. Benedict. One of first points the speaker made had to do with what nonviolence meant to Gandhi.

Someone once asked Gandhi why he spoke in terms of nonviolence rather than love. Why use a negative, speaking simply of “not” being something, rather than affirmatively speaking of love. Love, the questioner implied carried with it something greater and more positive than merely nonviolence.

Gandhi’s replied that he was all in favor of love, but that he thought nonviolence was a better and fuller term to use for his purposes, a term that he believed conveyed something much more than “not” being violent. Love, Gandhi explained, was a word that has many meanings. The risk he saw was that one might infer from love a passivitity, a passive acceptance of the situation. Just take what is meted out to you and love in response.

Gandhi, however, believed that struggle is necessary. One must struggle against injustice. One must struggle for peace. In Gandhi’s mind, nonviolence includes love, but also carries with it an understanding of the need to struggle. Far from being passive, nonviolence is an active, loving struggle.

The lesson is perhaps a simple one, but one worth being reminded of. Love is not passive. Love does not excuse us from fighting (albeit nonviolently) for peace and for justice in this world.