The Generous Grasp

When can you take hold of something and give something simultaneously?

A handshake, of course, among other things. To clasp hands can show friendship, trust, alliance, love; to grab someone’s hand could restrain them from doing something stupid, or pull them up after they’ve gone over the edge.

Mark Kurlansky wrote in “Nonviolence: the History of a Dangerous Idea” that there is no positive word for nonviolent action — it is always phrased in terms of what it is not (i.e., it is defined in terms of the violence it isn’t). Gandhi, he pointed out, had tried to rectify this gap in our vocabulary by inventing the term satyagraha, “truth force” as Kurlansky translated it, but pointed out the term had never really caught on.

I thought, “Well, heck, I can invent a term nobody uses!” And that night the term “the generous grasp” came to me.

“A handshake?” some may ask. “You’re trying to rename nonviolence after a handshake? We’re talking about confronting the oppression inherent in our culture, challenging violent forces that have prevailed in this world since the invention of the punch, and you want to rename it after a handshake.”

Well, it’s not just a handshake. After all, one can restrain someone, and that, as I mentioned above, can be a generous act as well. There are people in the world who have to be stopped, no doubt; if their views prevailed we’d all be worse off. But we also have to remember that such people are, well, people, and thereby entitled to the compassion we show to all others. So we can restrain them, and give them the chance to mend their ways. To put it another way: the generous grasp, if need be, could be a flying tackle.

The compassion, however, has to remain in the center of all our acts. And hence the generosity comes first… but the grasp is there to finish whatever has to be done.


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