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What is a good fight? A
successful resolution? Is there a non-aggressive alternative with the
persuasive power of violence? These are just a few of the questions
Juergensmeyer’s book addresses.
“Gandhi’s Way – A Handbook of
Conflict Resolution” is a primer for readers unfamiliar with Gandhian
principles and moral action. It was Gandhi’s belief that fighting could
illuminate truth, which is the essential component of non-violent conflict
resolution. Juergensmeyer writes, “a good Gandhian fight, then, calls into
question the truthfulness of every position, no matter how vaulted.” Understand
that Gandhi didn’t want people to fight every fight, but rather he didn’t want
them to flee any fight due to fear.
The text is broken into three
sections:  the Principles of Gandhian Fighting,  case studies, and 
brief essay dialogues. From the beginning Juergensmeyer makes clear that the
basic premise of Gandhi’s approach was to focus on principles and the
transformation of structures, not people. Gandhi believed that conflicts
re-emerged because they were resolved only superficially – in essence, missing
the point, which is all individual parties possess some degree of truth. Gandhi
sought to restructure life-negating organizations through the pursuit of truth;
he sought to transform relationships not seize power.
The author outlines the three
steps in Gandhian fighting:
Examine the principles on both sides of the argument to
reach agreement on which will rightly be a part of the solution
Create a Gandhian alternative, which requires defining
a solution that will enhance both points of view
Begin doing that alternative whether or not the other
side participates in the alternative
Juergensmeyer explains compromise
isn’t necessarily a positive resolution. He also discusses the essential
difference between coercion and non-cooperation. He later discusses double
advocacy, which is an effort to reach truth through decreased
self-righteousness; and non-violence, which is defined as “not just harmlessness
but a positive state.” In short, Gandhi maintained that violence of any kind
negates life. This idea resonated, leaving me wondering how often are we
According to Juergensmeyer, the
basic rules of engagement are:
 Do not avoid confrontation
 Stay open to communication and self-criticism
 Find a resolution and hold fast to it
 Regard your opponent as a potential ally
 Make your tactics consistent with the goal
 Be flexible
 Be temperate
 Be proportionate
 Be disciplined
 Know when to quit
Section II offers in-depth case
studies on: a domestic squabble, a labor-management dispute, a personal
decision, a social crusade, and a situation of massive political oppression.
It’s important to note that some
conflicts are more easily fought according to Gandhian principles.
Juergensmeyer points out that “Gandhian fighters sometimes take on larger
issues and greater opponents than they are able to combat; this is one of their
most frequent failings.” The author validates both critics and supporters of
Gandhi. He concludes that there is an essential element of Gandhian fighting
worth adopting even if the greatest change made is our own lives.
Section III was, by far, the most
stimulating. In this final section Juergensmeyer creates dialogues between
Gandhi and Marx, Freud, Neibuhr, and himself. The dialogues are lively, witty
and engaging – easily the strongest writing in the text. For the most part,
Juergensmeyer seems to have a deep understanding and appreciation for Gandhi’s
way. That is precisely what makes his suggestion that there may be times for
violence such an awkward contradiction, especially in a primer text.
The author noted “those who
consciously try to follow Gandhi’s ideals may fare no better than those for
whom the nonviolent path comes quite naturally.” This also sums up the text
itself – it is unclear whether you will fare better for the reading.
© 2003 J. E. Morris
J. E. Morris
currently works as a program coordinator and primary counselor at Chrysalis
House, Inc., a long-term residential treatment program for women recovering
from substance abuse, in Lexington, KY.