Meeting anger with anger doesn’t help. That doesn’t mean it cannot be put to good use, says Scilla Elworthy
“How do we deal with extreme violence without using force in return? When you are faced with brutality, whether it is a child facing a bully in the playground or domestic violence or on the streets of Syria... what is the most effective thing to do? Fight back? Use more force?” Scilla Elworthy asks a question that would have come to many of us at one time or the other.
Scilla Elworthy, founder of the Oxford Research Group to promote effective dialogue between nuclear weapon policy makers and their opponents, says, “I wanted to know how violence/ oppression intimidate… And only very rarely does it help to use more violence.”
So Elworthy addresses two main points: fear and indignation. She does not say you have to do away with them. She suggests how you could deal with them; talk down fear and use your anger as the driving force. Elworthy quotes the example of Nelson Mandela, saying that he was among those who realised violence against violence does not work. “The change that has to take place has to take place in the heart, inside me. It is my attitude to oppression that I have control over. I need to have self-knowledge of that. I need to know when I tick, when I collapse. My formidable points are where my weaker points are. What will I stand up for? When will I give in? Meditation is one way of developing this attitude.”
Elworthy relates an incident when Aung San Suu Kyi was suddenly faced with violent student protestors. She saw her soldiers were more scared than the student protestors. She had the courage to tell her army to lower their guns. She walked up to the foremost student and lowered the gun that student held. Therefore, no lives were lost in this protest.
“That is the power of conquering fear,” says Elworthy. “If fear grows fat on the energy you feed it, you have to talk it down. That is fear. What about anger? Wherever there is injustice, there is anger and anger is like gasoline — if you spray it around and somebody lights a matchstick, you have an inferno. But anger inside an engine is powerful, it can drive us forward and can get us through dreadful moments and give us power. I learnt this with my discussions with nuclear policy makers.”
Elworthy begins by recounting how she was just so indignant but realised she had to channel her anger to be effective, that it is hopeless to be angry with people. She says one should direct one’s anger towards nuclear weapons instead. Moving into the arena of international affairs, Elworthy says, “Local people know very well what to do. They know how to connect people with people and that is a more effective way to deal with violence. The army does not. Their interference only makes it easy for recruitment into the Al-Qaida, for instance.”
So the training of the troops has to change. And Elworthy says the change is on its way. She tells us of an army officer who was faced with people’s terror in Iraq. Instead of opening fire or running away he just commanded his men to kneel, which they did. In two minutes, says Elworthy, the tension dissipated and so did the crowd.
In evidence to her statement that this kind of response is happening everywhere, she says that is why dictatorship has disappeared in so many places. “This is what makes me feel positive... finally human beings are getting it now. We are getting practical methods to deal with bullies without becoming thugs, recognising and working with our fear, using anger as a fuel, co-operating with others, courage and most importantly commitment to active non-violence. We can bring to an end the bloodiest century humanities have known and overcome oppression by opening our hearts and strengthening our resolves.”