Shankar Vedantam, journalist, writer and previous NPR social science correspondent, delivered the forum address to campus on Tuesday. He discussed the psychological reasons behind the success of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolence campaigns.
Using a humorous Twitter thread about blackmailing a thief into returning a TV and other examples from media culture Vedantam stated that many people see violence as necessary, effective, and essential for change.
“Many of us are so convinced about the story of the effectiveness of violence that we think that King and Gandhi are irrelevant.”
However, from his sincere study of Gandhi's and King’s lives and his background in empirical research and social science, Vedantam believes that these men's campaigns of nonviolence and genuine love are psychologically and strategically brilliant.
Discussing the unifying nature of Gandhi’s Salt March and moments from King’s life where he exemplified love instead of revenge, Vedantam explained that nonviolent demonstrations tactfully place government and societal flaws under scrutiny.
“Noncooperation reveals the architecture of oppression and simultaneously reveals that authorities are not as all-powerful as they appear.”
Furthermore, nonviolence and noncooperation create an environment where oppressors can be humanized, said Vedantam.
“One of the greatest psychological and strategic advantages of nonviolence and the idea of loving your enemy … [is that] it allows you to see your enemies as human beings. It allows you to be curious about them, allows you to ask, ‘Let me try and understand where you're coming from.’”
Practicing this inquisitive and compassionate thought process, insisted Vedantam, enabled Gandhi and King to exemplify love instead of hate and helped them transform potential allies and disengaged members of society into passionate, change-seeking people.
This type of love for mankind is difficult to believe in, said Vedantam. Injustice triggers apathy, helplessness and hatred, making love seem illogical or naive.
However, Gandhi and King did not practice a submissive form of love. Their efforts were successful because they loved bravely.
“The central virtue of the beloved community is not love and kindness but courage. In the absence of courage, it is impossible to build the beloved community ... because it takes courage to actually extend empathy and compassion to your enemies.”
Next devotional: Justin Collings, an associate dean for BYU Faculty and Curriculum and professor of law, will deliver the next devotional address on Tuesday, February 1, at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center.
Collings’s remarks will also be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM and SiriusXM 143.