Gandhi’s idea about nonviolence, or set of ideas, really, speaks directly to the gun-violence prevention movement for several reasons—long-term reasons, but reasons that provide an unshakeable foundation for an enduring action.
Gandhi situated fundamental political action within the only arena that we can continuously access and daily strengthen: our own hearts and minds. This kind of internal disarmament had been part of Christian nonviolence for centuries, but as the twentieth century dawned, social reform had become a more pressing concern, particularly with the advent of World War I. Gandhi's reminder of the older tradition is important, though, because he tells us, in effect, that we can always “be political,” we can always practice our political chops, even in our cars, waiting at a stop-light, as long as we understand how he understood the phrase, "political action."
His understanding is a lot different from the way that phrase might be understood in Western circles.
Gandhi placed special emphasis on the mind’s role in perceiving and understanding the world around him. That role is pivotal, so pivotal, in fact, that the mind is seen to determine, for all practical purposes, whatever aspect of the world it is currently processing: weather, war, hunger, love, attack, boredom. The mind is not a clear lens. It is dusty, and its dust arises from our own self-interests.
Our minds so heavily skew our perceptions that we believe these skewed perceptions to be, in essence, an accurate report of what's happening. Nothing more, nothing less.
We rarely believe what we see; we do regularly, however, see what we believe.
Gandhi’s assumption is that the mind’s default setting renders a picture of the world that simply doesn’t exist. And with that idea in hand, he turns to the world of social and political reform: our actions in that world will never have the desired effect because they are being designed and implemented to reach a goal, a place in the world, that doesn’t exist.
So what are we to do? The answer to that question, conceptually speaking, is easy: we need to reconfigure those default settings so that we perceive the world, and our own place in it, more accurately. Then our actions will become more effective because they are designed to operate in a world whose true qualities, not our projected qualities, we are beginning to understand.
Buddhism, Hinduism, and other wisdom traditions from Asia have produced multiple ways for gaining this understanding. They have composed over several millennia a number of user's manuals for the mind, so to speak, and they have outlined scores of ways to put these user's manuals to good use in our daily lives.
As a general rule, Westerners lump all of these methods under the general heading, "meditation," and as long as we understand how varied are the practices that fall under that heading, it's a good place to begin because it emphasizes the fact that the problems we are trying to solve out there—gun violence, racism, poverty, the penal system—have their root in here, in our own minds.
So, while we are working away at those problems that surround us, we might as well also address the roots of those problems. And since we can't address someone else's roots, we have no choice but to address our own. When we do that, to return to the original quotation that began this posting, our own internal renoviations become "more infectious," which means that world around us benefits from the work that we are undertaking within us.
That alone is a pretty serious insight because it radically redefines the notion of our place in the political arena, and it has been sending yogis to caves in the Himalayas for thousands of years. It also explains why being around people who do these internal explorations at a very high level, like the Dalai Lama, are so charismatic: we like being "infected" by them.
It also gives the deeper background to the bumper sticker you often see with a picture of Gandhi accompanied by the slogan: "Be the change you want to see in the world." (No matter that Gandhi never said that. What he did say was longer, less sloganistic, and more subtle. Still you get the point.)
But the results are clear: trolls stop getting under our skin, though they continue to troll us, and our focus remains; the mindless serve-and-volley with angry gun-huggers on Twitter seems more and more pointless, and we find ourselves gradually working effectively above the fray; and we begin to sense the undefined but deeply powerful community that ultimately claims all of us because we have seen love as the only common bond that survives the struggles or hardships that come with real social reform.
Gandhi had a clear awareness of this continual back-and-forth between internal renovation and social action—how the two can sharpen and dull one another—and it came to him early. Remembering Pretoria, South Africa, where he began his career, he wrote that "the religious spirit within me became a living force."
It's a model that can benefit all of us, as we continually balance our social action, however we define it, with our hard-won self-knowledge, however we decide to acquire it.