Almost from the moment we arrive on the planet, we are assigned the job of figuring out how it works and what it all means.
Even in the cases where it all looks pretty fixed and stable, things slip in that tell us that this isn’t the whole story.
Which is why, for example, Copernicus was such a shock to the system. That fifteenth century Polish tinkerer, of course, came to the surreal notion that, contrary to anything and everything that had ever been said before, we always and everywhere had lived on a ball flung through the pitched darkness of everything.
Even after six centuries, it’s still a little hard to believe. Intellectually, yes, I’ve got it down pat—but do I believe it, way down deep, where all the real beliefs live? Even now I get a slight case of tremors and vertigo when I really concentrate on it.
And, of course, Copernicus was only the beginning. There were the French guys who saw through the mysteries of royal absolutism and saw, not potentates or divines, but other guys—guys who were, as one of them stressed, like us, with arms and legs and eyes and fevered brains that were not infallible: far from it!
The whole 5,000-year-old scaffolding started teetering. What was once beyond sturdy and monumental—beyond, because it just was—was now papery, ill-fitting, even banal.
It was only a matter of time before the whole crew rushed in: Marx, Darwin, Freud. And even though it is, even now, easier to sleep and pretend that none of this happened or matters, the light from their hissing lanterns hustles in jangly slivers through our fitful, clouded minds. There’s no getting far enough back from their phosphorus matches.
We’ve been treated all along to these professionals. But that doesn’t get us off the hook. We are, finally, like them. They tried to figure it out. And we try to figure it out.
That’s one of the reasons I’m betting on nonviolence. For my money, nonviolence is a method that is on the lookout for all the little itty bitty pieces of truth. Like when the thermometer bursts and the school is cleared until every last tiny gleaming sphere of mercury is given its due and found. Or like when Jesus goes off to round up every last sheep. Ninety-nine is not a hundred.
Everything matters. Everything counts. Everything is part of the whole. And, naturally, the whole depends on everyone showing up. Everything—and everyone—has to be present and accounted for. If we need to figure things out, we need a way that doesn’t rule out certain truths simply because they don’t look true to us.
Since Gandhi, nonviolence has been offering us a metaphysical crowbar to pry open our way of looking at the world. Make things more spacious. Find all the mercury and every last sheep.
Nonviolence is a way of seeing what wasn’t seen before. And it does this by not ruling things out beforehand. It is a method that modestly and reverently acknowledges the sheer crowded complexity of things.
And, more often than not, it is a method filled with tremors and vertigo.