It is enough to turn on the TV, read the news, or even open the window, to realize the misery in which many people live. Our world includes pain, fear, sadness, and loneliness, among many others, some of them natural, but many others inflicted by us, and very often causing more violence. Seeing all this, we might feel the urge to know if there is anything for us to do to help, and there sure are many simple, yet effective things to do.
Even if sometimes, for some of us, the war zones, famine, hunger, and despair appear to be distant, every single one of us, near or far, has a fair share of responsibility in each and every conflict happening. It is unlikely that anyone of us has intentionally caused the famine in the Horn of Africa (to name just one problem), yet there are still many things that we can do to mitigate this huge problem, even without having to donate a single penny (which is also very useful, and widely appreciated). The point here is to ask ourselves if the actions which we do, day to day, contribute to make things better or worse. The reality, whether we notice it or not, is that the things which we do in our very own microcosmos have a huge impact on a larger scale.
Orit Sen-Gupta, in her Little Book of Yoga, writes a quite simple, yet insightful section on the whole non-violence, or non-harming concept.
"Himsa, which literally means hurting or harming, is an interaction between two or more participants. The person hurting, and the one being hurt are both bound by the same element -- pain.
The act of hurting isn't an isolated phenomenon, but rather it is part of a chain reaction. The hurter was probably hurt before and is acting out his pain. The one who is being hurt now will probably in his turn inflict pain on another. This never ending chain of pain and suffering has to be brought to an end for everyone's sake."
She further explains that, as most of us know, Gandhi himself, practiced this notion of non-violence, but his message had two sides: not allowing the other to inflict pain on you, but also not allowing the other to inflict pain on himself. Non-violence also involves protecting ourselves from hurt.
What I like about Orit Sen-Gupta's insight on non-harming, is this notion of interconnection between one another. It is as if harming was similar to a tennis match, when the ball is on our side, we might want to skillfully hit the ball, and that can have two different outcomes -- being answered, or scoring and being served a few seconds later. In either case, the game will continue until the end. Whether we answer back or not, is entirely up to us. Breaking this chain is what Jesus meant when he talked about "giving the other cheek".
[...] In a hurtful situation, whether thought or spoken or done by you to another, or by another towards you, or by you towards yourself -- be determined not to hurt, but to act to stop this hurting. [...] When another hurts us, it is often due to the hurts that he has suffered in the past. Understanding this creates within us a distance which allows us to act. Perceiving the whole situation with wide caring eyes, we try to stop it with as little pain as possible for all involved.
Everything we do or don't do contributes a little bit in the making of this peaceful place we all crave for. Even if it would be really wonderful if we could all go with food supplies and share a few moments with the hungry, there are people sitting next to us at this very moment who could use a little comforting, people who suffer discrimination on a daily basis, people who go through hell because of an addiction, lonely people, sad people, people in need... By offering our shoulder and opening our heart to someone, by not answering to the calling of violence, by breaking the circle of hatred, by learning how to really give, we are already making this world a happier one. Rather than this being an imposed rule that makes us feel guilty every time we break it, non-harming is more of a goal -- an intention.
As citizens of the world, we take part in every decision, and it is all in our hands. We really need to try to make it our responsibility to avoid the shedding of tears.