On December 2, 2020, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Elijah, into the world. He was only 6 pounds 4 ounces and since my wife had to have a C-section the doctors placed Elijah on my bare chest to provide much needed skin to skin warmth now that he was released from the comforting confines of the womb.
Holding my son for the first time and watching him grow has highlighted for me something that the current pandemic has been revealing to us over the past year. We need the care and support of other people if we’re going to survive.
Elijah taught me from the beginning of his life that we humans are fragile. Without his parents taking care of all his needs, he would not live. He is totally dependent on us, not just for food and shelter, but just as crucially, love and affection. He may need us, but the opposite is also true; we need him. He’s given my wife and I joy and love that neither of us knew was possible. It has made life so much more fulfilling. He needs us and we need him.
The pandemic, likewise, is revealing to many of us that our lives are intimately connected with our neighbors and people around the world. As a society we’ve been asked to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and get the vaccine. This is not simply about protecting ourselves but also those all around us. In order for me to stay safe and healthy, I have to also care about the other people around me. I need you and you need me so we both stay healthy.
Sometimes it seems, watching the news or scrolling social media, we have forgotten this very simple idea. Something as simple as wearing a mask during a global pandemic has become a form of political identity rather than something we can all do to protect each other and show that we care about one another.
In my work as the executive director of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, a nonprofit working to educate people about the power of nonviolence, there is a clear correlation between our need for each other and the roots of nonviolence.
Nonviolence is about finding the goodness in everyone, including ourselves and those we struggle with. When we find that goodness we realize that we share a common humanity and that to harm another harms ourselves, likewise kindness to another is kindness to ourselves. That simple realization can open up space to find common ground and perhaps help us remember how much we need one another.
At Pace e Bene we see nonviolence at play in all areas of life. It is a spirituality, a way of life, a program for societal action, and a universal ethic. It confronts injustice but also honors the life of every human being.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. clearly understood this as well when he said “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. ...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
As we approach the International Day of Peace on September 21 and the International Day of Nonviolence on October 2, I hope we can all find ways of remembering the values of nonviolence and how much we truly need one another. I will certainly be teaching my son these important lessons throughout his life for his benefit and the benefit of all.
Ryan Hall is the Executive Director of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon with his spouse Dr. Erandhi Hall, their son Elijah and their cat Pace.