KNOWING when not to act is a central key to overcoming so many of life’s obstacles.
Gandhi didn’t fight for independence for India. The British Empire did all of the fighting—and, as it happens, all of the losing. That was deliberate, of course. Gandhi’s extensive satyagraha campaign and civil disobedience show that action has many definitions. It’s not always moving forward or even obliquely. It can also be a matter of positions. It can be a matter of taking a stand.
Sometimes you overcome obstacles not by attacking them but by withdrawing and letting them attack you. You can use the actions of others against themselves instead of acting yourself.
Weak compared to the forces he hoped to change, Gandhi leaned into that weakness, exaggerated it, exposed himself. He said to the most powerful occupying military in the world, I’m marching to the ocean to collect salt in direct violation of your laws. He was provoking them—What are you going to do about it? There is nothing wrong with what we’re doing—knowing that it placed authorities in an impossible dilemma: Enforce a bankrupt policy or abdicate. Within that framework, the military’s enormous strength was neutralised. Its very usage was counterproductive.
Martin Luther King Jr., taking Gandhi’s lead, told his followers that they would meet “physical force with soul force.” In other words, they would use the power of opposites. In the face of violence they would be peaceful, to hate they would answer with love—and in the process, they would expose those attributes as indefensible and evil. Opposites work. Non-action can be action.
It uses the power of others and allows us to absorb their power as our own. Letting them—or the obstacle—do the work for us.