The following essay appeared in a book World Without Violence, edited by Arun Gandhi and published by the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in honor of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi's 125th birthday, October 2, 1994. I was surprised to note that Gandhi and I share the same birthday, separated by a few years. This page can be viewed in Romanian courtesy of azoft.
Resist Not Evil
Martin E. Hellman
Professor of Electrical Engineering
Stanford, CA 94305
The Russian writer, Count Leo Tolstoy, was credited by Gandhi as being one of the key influences in the development of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi even named his South African commune, Tolstoy Farm. Tolstoy had wrestled with spirituality, first rejecting religion in favor of a modern, "scientific" view of creation, then turning back to the Russian Orthodox Church of his youth, and finally rejecting the church's dogmatism in an essay that led to his excommunication. Tolstoy gives the following account of the moment when the veil was lifted and he first understood true spirituality and the path to nonviolence:
The passage which served me as key to the whole was Matthew, v. 38, 39: "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil" ... These words suddenly appeared to me as something quite new, as if I had never read them before. Previously when reading that passage I had always, by some strange blindness, omitted the words, "But I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil", just as if those words had not been there, or as if they had no definite meaning.
Subsequently, in my talks with many and many Christians familiar with the Gospels, I often had occasion to note the same blindness as to those words. No one remembered them, and often when speaking about that passage Christians referred to the Gospels to verify the fact that the words were really there. [Leo Tolstoy, A Confession, The Gospels in Brief, and What I Believe, translated by Aylmer Maude, Oxford University Press, 1971, pp 316-317]
What could Tolstoy (and Jesus) possibly
have meant? Is it not our duty to resist evil? In his flash of inspiration,
Tolstoy saw that, in resisting evil, we usually become the very evil we seek
to destroy, perhaps worse. In resisting the evils present in communism, the
United States built 30,000 nuclear weapons. In resisting the evils present in
capitalism, the Soviet Union built 20,000 weapons. These actions created an
evil far greater than those being resisted: the real danger that civilization
will be destroyed.
Similarly, in resisting the evil of nuclear weapons, many people in the peace movement made war on President Reagan, the military, or the scientific community - all of whom had some responsibility for the mess in which we found ourselves. But, in resisting the perceived evil, these people often created their own "evil empires" whose destruction would make the world safe - not an effective way to pose the possibility that love of neighbor is the path to salvation.
In learning to "resist not evil," the playing field need not be international politics, with daily interpersonal relations providing perhaps the best workout. It is easier to "resist not" when the perceived evil is distant and abstract, but much harder when it is an angry spouse in the same room!
I will never forget the day my wife, Dorothie, told me that I had to love her even when she was angry. Going further she informed me that at such times I had to love her, not in spite of, but because she was angry. After my initial shock and resistance, I realized that, while it was extremely uncomfortable for me when she was angry, I would not eliminate her angry times even if I could - which of course I could not. Many things that she needed to say, and I needed to hear, only came out when she was angry. I later came to see another benefit of Dorothie's demand: I could ask her for the same consideration, and was thus able to be heard in a way that before had seemed impossible.
As we learned to hear each other better, we came to see that our anger was usually a result of not having been able to say things that needed to be said, or not having been adequately heard. Once we could express ourselves and be heard, the anger had less chance to build.
Learning to "resist not" - or at least to "resist less" - proved extremely valuable when, from 1984-88, I acted as Director of the Beyond War Foundation's "International Scientific Initiative," an attempt to bridge the gap between the Soviet and American world views. The focus of the Initiative became a book entitled Breakthrough: Emerging New Thinking, published simultaneously in Russian and in English in late 1987, during the period of rapid change in Soviet- American relations. The final editing took place during a marathon, two-week trip to Moscow in June 1987. In the middle of this exhilarating but physically draining experience, a crisis arose. Alexander Nikitin, one of the Soviet participants, requested a seemingly impossible change in the opening lines of Yale Professor Paul Bracken's paper:
No single dictator, no single event pushed Europe into war in 1914. But during the preceding decade, the nations of Europe had institutionalized the potential for catastrophe. They had built interlocking alerts and mobilization plans that, once triggered, swamped and outran the political control process. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
Nikitin objected, "It makes it sound as if the war were a big accident, yet we all know that there were strong historical forces at work." I was furious. The requested change seemed to contradict the thesis of Bracken's paper: even though no one wants a nuclear war, it is an accident waiting to happen. This was a key paper. There wasn't time to get Bracken to rewrite it. And I didn't want it rewritten. Laboring under my massive resistance to Nikitin's request, I also felt that he had violated a key agreement, not to inject either nation's propaganda into the book, since the phrase "strong historical forces" in this context was often a Soviet code word for "Western colonialism and imperialism." I was incensed but, recognizing that expressing my fury would do little to bridge the gap between Soviet and American world views, I muttered something like "I'll have to think about it," and went to cool off. Good thing!
As I dropped my resistance to Nikitin's objection and thought about what he had said, as opposed to what I thought he had said, I realized that I had read much into his few words and that I needed to check things out. Moving out of resistance, I could become more creative. I called Nikitin and suggested adding a phrase so the second sentence of the paper read: "But during the preceding decade, motivated by various political and economic self-interests, the nations of Europe had institutionalized the potential for catastrophe." Nikitin agreed that this minor change took care of his objection, Bracken approved the change, and the book came out on time.
On many similar occasions, I have found "resist not evil" to magically bring forth a bountiful harvest from seemingly barren soil. In order for you to decide for yourself if there is truth in this advertising, I highly recommend trying "resist not" as an experiment and seeing how it works in your life. On this celebration of the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of Gandhi's birth into this world, I will risk trying to read the mind of a departed soul, and say that I believe Gandhi would second the motion.