Last weekend I had an interesting conversation with some of my historian friends who made the claim that Fidel Castro was the most influential man of our era. I took exception to that statement immediately but their assertion that his shepherding of the Cuban socialist project deserves significant credit can’t be dismissed. It was a short conversation but maybe one of them will chime in here and elaborate. Essentially, the gist I got of their argument is that Cuba, as the only socialist project to survive into this century, had been enormously influential throughout the world by inspiring and supporting third world national and socialist liberation movements, and by successfully facing down the monolith that is the United States.
I can’t argue with these statements but I really don’t think he’s been the single most influential person. That’s a big statement. What immediately came to my mind when I thought of influence were those men who led non-violent liberation movements, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The tactics employed by these movements have changed the world. Non-violent civil-disobedience isn’t a new concept to our time, but it is a form of protest that has been employed incredibly effectively during what has been arguably the most violent era in human history.
At my workplace, we have this quote by MLK hanging on the wall above the computer I use, in which he addresses violence:
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate...Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that."
Any of us who really reflects on these words knows the truth of them. We know it from our history, from our own personal relationships, from the communities we live in, and from the results we can plainly see on the world stage when violence is used to obtain objectives.
Here are my questions:
How can we teach non-violent behavior to children on an interpersonal level when we model violent behavior, both emotionally and physically, to the people in our lives every day?
How can we teach it on a societal level when our solution to social problems is to lock up an entire sector of our population? Did you all know we have the largest prison population in the world?
And how can we condemn the use of force by young people to solve their problems when we tolerate a government that has constructed a global military and police infrastructure that makes war and employs torture to impose our will on others?
Many people will respond to me, probably not here, that I am a doom and gloom person when it comes to the U.S. The reaction will be, why can't you say something good for once. Ok, I will (although if you check your gut reaction you will recognize that I often do). Ready? Here goes:
We are better than this. We can be.