January 29, 2015

The Next Step Beyond Service

Nonviolence teaches us to look beyond problems to their root.  What are the causes of these problems?  For example, when we see hunger in our community, the cause is not that someone forgot to eat!  There are unjust systems that we have collectively built that marginalize and dehumanize people.  These systems have created the conditions that make it extraordinarily difficult for some members of the community to meet their basic needs.

It is our responsibility then, not only to feed those who are hungry, but also to correct the systems that create the conditions for hunger and food insecurity in the first place.

This is what I mean by "the next step beyond service."  It means taking service to others and adding deep strategy to address root causes.  This is the essence of Constructive Program.

The classic example of Constructive Program was Gandhi's efforts to teach people how to spin cotton into cloth to make fabric and clothing.  At the time, the British Empire took the cotton and raw materials from India, sent it to England, made it into cloth and then sold it back to the Indian people at a much higher price.  Gandhi's Constructive Program looked at this exploitation at its roots.  This was not just about high priced clothing.  This was about Indian independence from the British.  It was about economic independence.  It was about moral and spiritual independence.

The spinning wheel built local economies.  It empowered the Indian people, not only with the structural means to make cloth, but with the moral and spiritual vision of independence.  As his message spread, it had a major impact to free the nation from British rule.

If Gandhi had simply tried to provide cheaper cloth, that might have meant opening second-hand markets for clothing.  Maybe there would have been an exchange system from those who had excess cloth to those with less.  It would have created some jobs and some solutions, but the root of the problem would have remained... subjugation to the British Empire.

Constructive Program can be extraordinarily powerful.  The key is taking the mindset of service and love for others and adding in strategy that addresses the root of the problem.  

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