Americans are learning as a nation the truth about security. In the era of Julian Assanges and Edward Snowdens, we have gone through a checklist—spying does not make us secure and even fails to warn us that entire regions are imminently in revolution; foreign wars do not make us more secure but instead more hated; a war on terror does not make us secure but rather breeds even more terrorists; operating drones does not make us more secure as it spreads hot conflict across numerous borders and angers entire societies; increasing our military spending does not make us more secure as it means we have dwindling budgets left for bridges, education, protection of our food/air/soil/water and so we become more insecure.
Our retributive prison system does not make us more secure with no rehabilitation and instead gives us ranks of recidivists; our police forces do not make us more secure when entire communities are afraid to call them; electing new people to office who speak of the promise of security turns out not to make us more secure and indeed strips us of the securities guaranteed in the endangered Bill of Rights. Alas, it seems, even a Bill of Rights does not make us secure.
Shopping does not make us secure; a new line of clothing or makeup will not make us secure; controlling women’s bodies, disenfranchising people of color, creating new, violent games for our youth do not make us more secure. What will make us more secure? We will, and it is time for a radical shift in the way we think not only about security but about who we are.
The genius of Gandhi, and the attractive force that he embodied during the Indian Freedom Struggle for people around the world was that he was a secure person. More than that, he was secure in the midst of doing everything that the dominant paradigm would say would make him insecure, and he did so in a very simple way.
When he realized that passivity was not an answer to solve the problem of foreign domination, he upheld nonviolent creative action. When he realized that untruth was the order of the day (even back then!), he upheld the principle of truth; instead of maintaining a vision of “the greatest good for the greatest number,” or a utilitarian approach to social uplift that required sacrificing some for the good of all, his motto was “the uplift of all,” sarvodaya. And he struggled to uphold these values in his personal life. This is the secret of security: like love, at its highest, it is not something that we receive; it is something that we do. And in doing security, in being secure and promoting the security of others, we find our own. It starts with the spirit, not the spy game. It takes a shift toward altruism, not a shift toward shutting down others and others and others and finally ourselves.
Of course, in times of insecurity, the secure person threatens the status quo. It is not without risk that we are called to live our truth. Gandhi was one of many who lived the consequence of speaking truth to power: like Dr. King, he was assassinated; yes, but his goal was not to save his life, rather, to use his life for a higher purpose. He wanted to use his life to challenge the underlying story of who we have come to believe we are. He knew that to do so, taking risks was a part of the package.
Security is risky, but the paradox arises from our belief that we can be secure at others’ expense, separate from them – from our belief that our physical well-being (as opposed to our meaning) is the locus of our security.
We do not necessarily have to be willing to risk our lives--what if we risked our egos, instead? What if we risked our sense of separation from one another, our institutionalized alienation? What if we took bold action for a more peaceful world, just by shifting the way we see ourselves? Insecurity is contagious, and so is deep security. It’s risky to believe in what we cannot see with our eyes, yet this isn’t unnatural to us. We listen to fear all of the time and let it dictate our actions and the nature of our relationships to others. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden may be afraid for their lives right now, but they are not afraid that they’ve wasted their lives. Are they not the secure ones in that sense?
We can enlarge what they have announced with their sacrifice (and not necessarily by going that far). The Buddha once said, “of all relationships, the best is trust.” The NSA revelations have shown that we have tried to build a world of distrust in a mistaken search for security. Let’s begin by dismantling that.
How do we start? In earnest…
By holding ourselves to a higher standard of what we can achieve with our lives: challenging ourselves to become more forgiving and willing to negotiate; more fearless and unwilling to humiliate; more generous, with all of our resources; more constructively empowered to do right by ourselves and others; more willing to learn from our mistakes without allowing ourselves to feel degraded in the process, we will slowly, steadily build a more secure world, from the inside out. We are not working in isolation—the children in our homes and neighborhoods, the inheritors of this world and our states of mind, are watching us.
Stephanie is executive director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence in northern California and writes for PeaceVoice.