We live in a diverse world that cannot be viewed in narrow-minded black and white terms like Good or Evil, Right or Wrong. To do so is to only see the extreme in every situation and contrary to the definition of humanity. We are all ONE people and thus we are all of these things. We, as a people, are Black, white, American, Arab, Jew, Christian, Pagan, good, evil, right, and wrong. We are so many things which is precisely why we can’t view the world in those extremes. When we view the world this way we create division and at the same time we take our own diversity out of the solution to the problem of violence. By viewing the world in extremes, we begin assuming that one thing is better than another. This is flawed. For example, what right do we have to say that Christianity is any better than Islam? What right? In a world full of diversity division is fatal. It leads to anger. It leads to violence. It leads to fear. It leads to apathy. It leads to ignorance. We can no longer afford to think in these terms.

Even the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is seen in these black and white terms. The Palestinians see that they only have two choices. Fight or live as an oppressed people. They choose to fight because they want to be free. The Israelis see only two choices as well. Strike preemptively or live in fear of death. Violence should never be the answer. If we begin to think in terms of non-violence then another solution presents itself. What better message could the Palestinians send to Israel and the rest of the world than to lay down their weapons and link arms and march on Israel in the name of peace? Yes, they may face death at the hands of some terrified and trigger-happy Israeli soldier but they will no longer be contributing to the problem of violence but rather the solution to it. Should any be killed in the process who do you think is going to look bad? Certainly not the unarmed Palestinian. The same thing goes for the Israelis. If they think in terms of non-violence they, too, are presented with other solutions to the problem. They would realize they are in violation of the basic human right of self-determination. They would realize how hypocritical their actions have been and withdraw from occupied territories. They would realize that they pray to the same God of Abraham and so would really have no other choice but to extend the hand of friendship to their Arab brothers and sisters.
The conflict with Iraq is no different. Who knows what Saddam Hussein had up his sleeve? That is irrelevant. How powerful a message would we have sent him and the Iraqi people, to all the countries in the Middle East, and to the world, if we had invaded Iraq armed not with guns and tanks but with an army of non-violent soldiers with arms outstretched in love bearing food and humanitarian aid? The people of Iraq would not have fought us then. How could they if they see we offer peace? Saddam would have lost whatever hold he had on his people. How could he have possibly defeated so powerful an army as one of peace and non-violence? What could he have possibly said to convince them that this non-violent army is evil and intent on their destruction? Alas, it didn’t work out this way and here we are years later still fighting the “good” fight.

We need to begin thinking in terms of non-violence because they are all-encompassing. Non-violence is the true path to freedom. There will always be different views of the way the world is and the way it should be but there is one ideal that we all aspire to. That ideal is freedom. Freedom means being able to express these diverse views without the threat of violence hanging over our heads. Freedom does not mean we have the right to dictate what others think. Freedom depends on tolerance of these different views so that we may learn from them. Freedom does not give license for the use of violence, ever. Freedom is by nature non-violent. We need to think in terms of non-violence because they foster love and tolerance rather than hate and ignorance. Not too long ago, a man was arrested for wearing a tee-shirt that read, “Give Peace a Chance,” that he had just purchased in a public shopping mall. Arrested for wearing a non-violent statement on his body. This is in violation of so many things that it is appalling and it is indicative of the direction our country is headed if we give in to fear. The officers that arrested him did so out of fear that his shirt was going to cause trouble. They not only violated that man’s right to freedom of expression but also the public’s right to hear that expression. There is no other word for that except oppression. They are not allowing the public to decide what they want to think for themselves. Why? Fear. They’re afraid of facing the issue at hand that there is violence in the world. Has it gotten so bad that we have to fear non-violent expression? We must remember that fear also leads to ignorance of the root cause of the problem of violence by thinking in black and white terms. We forget that between those two extremes of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, that there is always the third gray area of non-violence in every action, tolerance of diversity, and acceptance of human beings as ONE people with a common ideal of freedom.

We live in a world that is afraid. Our country included. Our government feeds this fear in order to catch terrorists. They do the things they do and say that it puts the world’s terrorists on run and less likely to carry out terrorist attacks in the future because now the terrorist is supposedly afraid of being caught. That is just ridiculous. Do you really think a suicide bomber is afraid of jail if he’s not afraid of death? Does taking a few terrorists off the street justify terrifying our country with the threat of terrorist attack and an entire world with the threat of war? How can these ends justify the means if in the process we do nothing but generate more division amongst ourselves? Our government says we won’t listen to these terrorists. Why not? If we don’t then we remain ignorant to the cause of the problem. We’ll be thinking in those black and white terms of good versus evil. Terrorists need to stop thinking this way too. Violence solves nothing. Violence never does and never will.

This is precisely why we must not blindly follow our leaders. For one thing, they cannot read our minds. If we want something from our leaders it is our responsibility to make it known. We must hold them accountable for their actions as well as ours. Leaders must be treated as extensions of our will. They are representative of the human race, not some untouchable gods with omnipotent powers.

Who are we? We are human beings. We are not Republicans. We are not Democrats. We are not Christians and Buddhists and Muslims. Those are just labels to describe different ideologies perceived by the human race that we may or may not believe in. When we think of ourselves only as these things we leave absolutely no room for growth and we become intolerant of those who aren’t exactly like ourselves. When we become intolerant to the different expressions of our humanity then it is our own beliefs that have become stagnant and conservative and they don’t contribute to the betterment of our lives and those of our fellow humans. We must not sow the seeds of intolerance or we run the risk of becoming ignorant to the true nature of humankind. We are all ONE people. When we become intolerant we run the risk of becoming ignorant to the true impermanent nature of universe. Things change. The founders of our country knew this. They made it possible to change what needs to be changed and wrote it down in the form of our Constitution. All people are created equal. This is a progressive nation and not a conservative one. To view it otherwise is to live in the past grasping for ideals that may have become obsolete in the modern world. To view it otherwise is to stifle growth of the human spirit by limiting yourself to one small slice of human expression and to ideas that never change. Wh
at kind of life is that? What kind of nation is that? What good could come from that?

When we think in terms other than non-violence we make the mistake of taking people out of the equation when we come up with our solutions. It is impossible to take people out of the equation when they are a fundamental part of it. It is not realistic to think that it is possible because in the real world we are not abstract things. We are flesh and blood and soul. We must wake up and realize this. We must abandon our fears and trust in the goodness of humankind. All it takes is a first step on the path of non-violence and we’ll be on our way to a peaceful and truly free world.

an essay by Justin Lewis