Bigotry in all of its many forms is not an honest difference of opinion. It is an obstacle to the progress of humanity. Whether it be based on race, religion, gender, gender identity, nationality or ethnicity, bigotry is one of our great problems. And to live by my own values I must stand against it.
If I live my values I might come into conflict with those whose values are different than mine. And I also value community and good will toward all. So I might feel an internal conflict if speaking up for what I believe in might damage a relationship or break the community. Two yoga principles will help me. They are ahimsa and satya, non-violence and truthfulness. These ideas are not unique to yoga, of course. They must be practically universal throughout history.
When non-violence to the community and being truthful on important matters are apparently in conflict, how do I decide my action? Some of the great commenters on the yoga sutras over the past two millennia have held that truthfulness is in support of non-violence. Truthfulness and non-violence are not separable and are truly not in conflict with each other. An ethical code with integrity could not include conflicting principles or values.
The intention is to live one’s principles with integrity. To be truthful while not thinking, speaking or acting in violence. Truth must never result in violence. “One should not speak the truth unkindly.”
So how do I do this? I can try to keep my statements in the affirmative. I have two younger brothers. I can talk politics with the older of the two. He and I can have a good-natured, candid debate. My younger brother I’m not so sure. I think a disagreement over politics would quickly become personal. The relationship would be put at risk. When I think that a disagreement might do harm but I feel compelled to speak, I can state my values in the affirmative, rather than criticize another’s values in the negative.
If I become engaged on the subject of the recent election, rather than debate or confront I could say, “I won’t say how I voted, the ballot is secret. But I will tell you how I decide my vote. I want human dignity for all; I want a nation that does not hold itself superior to others – a nation that recognizes one world; I want to live in a nation and a world where everyone is free from unfair discrimination and oppression; I want a country and a world where no one’s self-determination is restricted by law or by custom; I want there to be an honoring and a reverence for our home – the natural world; I want a nation where it is fully recognized that greed is destructive and is a violence upon others, where it is fully recognized that hoarding wealth and monopolizing natural resources is destructive and is in fact a violence upon others; I want my country to honor all spiritual traditions; I want a nation where taking care of our own is not controversial, where all of my countrymen have unfettered access to good healthcare, good education, good housing, good food and water and a good retirement. I vote for the candidate whose actions I think will best align with my values.”
Bigotry of any sort is by definition unreasonable. It is not based upon any observable fact. It is not based in truth. It is not open for debate. And it divides us and that is a violence. I cannot correct someone who holds a harmful and unreasoned position. I might be speaking truth, but it would likely only divide us further. If I am to help, if I am to live by my principles with integrity, I must keep non-violence uppermost in my mind while speaking the truth. I must speak truth kindly and be careful of how much truth can be constructively received in this moment. I can be careful not to press beyond a point where resentment and defensiveness replace listening.
Gandhi said, “The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.” I cannot – and should not – force my views on another. But I can bear non-violent witness to the truth. And I don’t have to cooperate with what is humiliating to myself or to others.