Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Power of love to overcome evil

Without retaliation, evils would one day become extinct from the world.

Dear Zayda,

Jamaica has more churches per square metre than any other country in the world. Jamaica also at the moment has the highest murder rate in the world. The link between number of churches and the murder rate may well be Jamaican’s love of the Law of Moses. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” says that law.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will soon make the whole world blind.” That belief in retaliation certainly keeps bad things happening in families, in communities, in nations, and in the world.

Gandhi wanted to free India, but he chose peace over violence. Britain then ruled India and occupied much of Africa and the Caribbean as well. But India was at the centre of Britain’s empire. India provided Britain with riches, power, and control over land and people. Britain also had a strong army, and the best navy in the world. Gandhi had little more than a desire to see the backs of the British, and to see Indians rule their own country. Yet Gandhi’s refusal to hit back led to the end of the British Empire not just in India, but in Africa and the Caribbean as well.

If we feel we have to do to someone what the evil have done to us, or worse, we give away our power. That other person is now ruling our life, and may later rule our children’s lives as well.

Today in Jamaica there are communities at war with each other. Often the reasons are not clear, just that someone from this side once injured or disrespected or disagreed with someone from the other side. The wars break up families and friends, and isolate people who have to avoid the war zones. Battles take place in which people lose their homes and sometimes their lives.

When the fighting wears down people enough, peace might come for a while. People wonder why they chose to fight when life is so much easier when they care for each other, and when they can walk freely on streets that used to be no man’s land. If the will to give up “an eye for an eye” is strong enough, the peace will last. Too often, however, the mistrust does not go away. A small incident – such as an argument in a bar - can start up the war again.

The desire for retaliation seems never far away, especially when it seems to have support from the Bible. Jesus said his teachings of love were to replace the Law of Moses. He told his followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who hurt them, but Jamaicans seem to prefer to follow the hate teachings of Moses.

Nelson Mandela had every reason to hate those who kept him in prison for 27 years. Like Gandhi, Mandela wanted to do what seemed impossible at the outset. He wanted to free a country where one group enjoyed life at the expense of another group. The white South Africans had all the power, and did all they could to ensure the Blacks had no power at all. They were shot down when they tried to march peacefully to resist unjust treatment., but later took up arms to defend themselves. Blacks tried to use Gandhi’s methods

Nonetheless, when Mandela walked out of prison as a free man, and white rule ended, Mandela insisted there should be no retaliation. He did not wish evil to continue under Black rule. He set an example by making peace with his own jailers, and with those who had mistreated Black people so badly and over so many years.

My grandniece, we will be tempted to hit back when others hit us, so as to give them a taste of their own medicine. Even as we do that, we need to realize we are giving away our power to those persons. The best we can do then is to re-take our power as soon as we can. We can step back for a while to think about what we want most of all.

Is our goal to hurt someone today and risk retaliation tomorrow? Is the loving thing to move away from that person (if we can)? Could we try to love ourselves so much the person’s words and actions cannot hurt us? Could we bring ourselves to understand that the other person is acting out of his own pain, and that his behavior has nothing to do with us personally? Could we re-focus on our goals rather than stay focused on the person’s conduct?

Taking the peaceful road is not easy, Zayda. It takes more courage than fighting back, and it certainly leaves us with less evil for even the new-born to deal with.

We can choose. So, like Gandhi and Mandela, let us choose to love and forgive.


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

No comments:


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at