Recent events in Northern Africa have turned the spotlight on Gene Sharp, PhD, a scholar and social scientist anointed by the Daily Beast as “the 83-year-old who toppled Egypt.” For decades, Sharp — through his manuals and books, including From Dictatorship to Democracy, The Politics of Nonviolent Action and 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action— has argued that nonviolent action is the best way to overcome repressive regimes.
Sharp has a PhD from Oxford University, taught at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard, and is now senior scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution, a nonprofit he founded in 1983. His office is on the ground floor of his East Boston home, where he lives and works in the company of Sally, a Golden Retriever mix; before Sally, he had a black Great Dane, Caesar, who was said to serve as Sharp’s chief confidant.
As we were trying to find information about Dr. Sharp’s relationship to the world of dogs, we were pleased to discover an article he wrote in the March 1976 issue of the magazine Fellowship. In this article, “Disregarded History: The Power of Nonviolent Action,” he offers empirical historical evidence for the power of active resistance, including the fact that “it wasn’t Gandhi who introduced fasting as a political weapon”; it was Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1765, urged colonists to fast in their struggle against Great Britain.
Sharp goes on to offer the observation that nonviolent actions of this kind can be seen in nature as well. He starts his argument by demonstrating the ways a recalcitrant child tries to win over a parent with “hunger strikes” and similar resistance, then continues to the canine side of the family:
“Many animals and pets do all these things. Haven’t you had dogs or cats act this way? They want to go with you in the car somewhere—when they know they are not supposed to—they go and jump right in. It’s a ‘sit-in.’ Or, they know very well what you’re saying to them and pretend they don’t, just like you’ve done yourself. Or you say ‘move,’ and they lie down, whimpering, and look up at you with the saddest possible look—like some demonstrators do to police. Sometimes they’re being ignored, particularly if there’s company coming and there’s a big fuss in the house and nobody’s paying attention to them when they’re trying to say, ‘Come and play with me.’ The dog then goes into the middle of the living room rug and does a ‘nonviolent intervention’—not biting anybody, not growling at anybody but getting attention! So we don’t have to change human nature—or even animal nature—in order to be nonviolent.”
Leave it to a visionary like Gene Sharp to incorporate lessons learned from our animal companions in the quest for human freedom.
A documentary about Gene Sharp, “How to Start a Revolution,” directed by Ruaridh Arrow, is expected to premiere in spring 2011. genesharpfilm.com