Author: Stephanie Van Hook

Seeing Nonviolence?

The Metta Center–especially our founder, Michael Nagler– has been interested in the science of nonviolence for several decades. So the other day, I sent this article out to our awesome volunteers to see if it would spark some cool insights about how we understand nonviolence: Hi everyone,  The Metta Team has started exploring questions related to nonviolence every week, and so here is one! What do you think:  Here’s an article from the NYT about the phenomena of perception and expectation.  My question for you all is whether you think that we might be able to extrapolate some insights about how nonviolence works–or what it is–from these (non)observations.  Looking forward to hearing from you!  Stephanie  Here are some responses. After reading, you are warmly invited to add your own insights in the box below. We’d love to hear from you!   LOU:  As a magician and photographer, I am very aware of how misdirection and composition can hide things.  Both of these attributes are operating in the sample images in the article that made me “miss” seeing the big toothbrush, and less so the parking meter. The strongest way this relates to nonviolence for me is how people often don’t “see” nonviolence because we are culturally conditioned to focus on conflict and who’s to blame for it. Like the toothbrush, we’re looking for what we are expecting – someone or something to be wrong.  If we’re more in the habit of seeing the basic human needs being expressed in a conflict then we would see human beings struggling, feel compassion, and maybe our imaginations would be sparked with something new.   Annie: Hi everyone, and thank you, Lou, for your (very clear!) response. I completely agree that our current culture conditions us to see violence, which in turn tends to cause us to be blind to actions — even movements — of nonviolence. Unfortunately, in most mainstream media, unlike in the images of the big toothbrush and parking meter, the stories about nonviolence are simply not there. That said, one aspect I liked about considering parallels between this and the workings of nonviolence is the fact that we seem to be particularly unaware of ‘out of scale’ objects. My hope is that, like the toothbrush and the parking meter, nonviolence is, in fact, enormous in our world, we just need to learn to ’spot’ it. If this is the case, we should try to think about what might trigger our capacity to do this, to see the truth which is in front of us, One way might be to think about the fact that it was easier to identify the parking meter because we’d been alerted to its presence. So perhaps then part of spotting NV is having its presence suggested. This is a pretty…unexciting conclusion and I’m sure there’s more we can draw from this example, but simple awareness raising seems pretty important.   Thuy: Thanks, Stephanie, for bringing forth this interesting article and food for thought for the day. Lou and […]

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Tips for Facing Crisis

Photo Credit: Leslie Mclurg, KQED In crisis situations–whether by human-made violence or nature disasters–we can draw from the tools of nonviolence to help us take care of ourselves and others with sensitivity and awareness. The following list includes activities we can do by ourselves and share with others. Center.Take deep breaths to slow your breathing and to calm your mind. Take 15 seconds and check in with your surroundings: name to yourself or outloud five things you see: a red pillow, a grey chair, a tree, etc. You might also use a mantram, a prayer word that helps to calm the mind and body. Find one in your spiritual tradition, if you wish, such as Jesus Jesus Jesus, Allah Allah Allah, Rama Rama Rama (Gandhi’s mantram, which he called the “staff of his life”), Om mani padme hum, Baruch Atah Adonai, Ave Maria, etc. You can find a great list in The Mantram Handbook by Eknath Easwaran or online at BMCM.ORG/Mantram   Check in with your body. Are you tense? Take 30 seconds, regularly, to stretch your arms, legs, notice your pace (is it unnecessarily fast?), rub your hands together, wiggle your toes, and so forth. Also, drink water. Stress can dehydrate us, fast; and as St. Exupery said in The Little Prince, “sometimes water is good for the heart.”   One-pointed attention. There are a lot of things grabbing for our attention when we are in an emergency situation. Doing several things at once will not only fragment your mind more and make you feel more afraid, it will lead to less getting done. Try to do one thing at a time. Make a list (at least mentally, if you can’t write it down), you may have to “triage” to attend to first things first. Go through it systematically. Each thing you do, give it your full attention until you have finished doing it.   Give people your one-pointed attention. Similarly, we can support the people around us who might be in a state of panic by giving them our one-pointed attention. Even if only for a short while, for whatever amount of time we have, be as present as possible with them.  Plus, practice “deep listening.” When you hear what someone really wants (and they themselves may not be quite aware), it releases a lot of tension.   Be creative, but be sensitive. In a time of crisis, we need each other and the various gifts we bring. Be creative and think of ways of building community based on what you know you can do. Help people to laugh and feel connected. But remember to be sensitive–look at what is happening, and consider what might be missing. People need safety, food, clothing, and shelter. We also need bonding, autonomy, and meaning. Don’t forget that human dignity requires all of these.   Consent. Ask before you help. “Would you like me to help you with x?” Similarly with photographs. Respect people’s dignity and autonomy, always.   Honoring our limits. There’s always something you can do, but […]

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A Really Inconvenient Truth

Climate change is real. It is also essential. “I like storms.”  -M.K. Gandhi   Eleven days without violence. This was the stunning result after the California Institute for Women (CIW) joined in Compassion Games, a worldwide experiment in social uplift drawing from Karen Armstrong’s work with the Charter for Compassion. The CIW is not a privileged feminist utopia– it’s a 120-acre prison in Chino, California. Violent institutions rarely, if ever, promote the true well-being of those within its walls, and prisons are a prime example. Dehumanized people will treat each other with cruelty and violence, and CIW was no exception. So when a volunteer chaplain brought the games to the inmates, no one was certain how or if the experiment would work. But the women rose to the challenge–strategizing, resolving tensions, and taking care of one another in a way that affirmed the humanity of their sisters and themselves in the process. Simple acts like taking food trays to harder ones like holding back a fist ready to hit. Maybe they’d try it again next year? No. They wanted to try again in three months. Every three months, in fact. The climate in the prison, for those eleven days, changed. Prisoners became self-labeled “compassionistas.” These are the kinds of stories I seek out when I turn to the media. Except what I find usually is very different. A gunman on the loose in Las Vegas. Booing at athletes for kneeling during our National Anthem. Stock prices rise in munitions. Flight costs out of Puerto Rico rising to $3,000 during a State of Emergency. Neighbor undermining neighbor. Violence is our national spectator sport, and guess who are the losers. Our inability to act on and transform the violence we witness daily in the United States isn’t so much because we don’t want to support the myriad solutions that are available. It’s because we lack the will to put those solutions into practice. And we lack the will because we lack the awareness of what we’re really up against. It’s not a person. It’s not a law. It’s not even a system, (even if all of these contribute to the problem). It’s ourselves. We don’t know what we’re really made of. According to the greatest experiments in human consciousness throughout the ages, the human being has various drives – all of us. Three in particular can lead to havoc if they are not harnessed and transformed: fear, greed, and anger. One angry man unleashes his anger and fear onto a terrified crowd, and gun sales soar. Over and over, the ‘perfect storm’ of unharnessed fear, greed, and anger explodes, wrecking our security and our life. At the root, however, these forces are not inherently destructive. They’re a bit like fire: out of control it can burn down a city; harnessed, we can use it to light a candle, read a book. Remember Martin Luther King: “We did not cause outbursts of anger, we harnessed anger under discipline for maximum effect.” This is, after […]

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Calmness under provocation

  “Victory is impossible until we are able to keep our temper under the gravest of provocation. Calmness under fire is a soldier’s indispensable quality. A non-cooperator is nothing if he cannot remain calm and unperturbed under a fierce fire of provocation. There should be no mistake. There is no civil disobedience possible until the crowds behave like disciplined soldiers. And we cannot resort to civil disobedience unless we can assure every Englishman that he is in his own home. It is not enough that we give the assurance. Every Englishman and Englishwoman must feel safe, not by reason of the bayonet at their disposal but by reason of our living creed of nonviolence. That is the condition not only of success but our own ability to carry on the movement in its present form. There is no other way of conducting the campaign of non-co-operation.” –M.K. Gandhi, Young India, August 25, 1921. Useful links about Daily Metta Have a question you’d like explored in Daily Metta? Write us. Want to see more Daily Mettas? Access the entire archives or visit GandhiDaily. To receive Daily Metta by email, simply subscribe.

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Lesson 2 (Family Program)

Activities for Month Two (PRINT VERSION AVAILABLE HERE)  The following activities are options for you to implement as works best for your family throughout the entire month. None are very demanding, but each one requires of us our full presence of mind and heart. You are invited to be creative with the activities: find your own way to make it work for the children with whom you participating. Invite each other to add to the activities in ways that add to their meaning and beauty. Here’s a list of the activities for the month. Find descriptions below. Journal Nonviolence Pledge Family Meeting Gandhi Searches for Truth, Reading and Discussion (for whole family) Search for a Nonviolent Future, Reading and Discussion (for older teens and adults) Mealtime Activity Wisdom Tradition Passage Nature Activity Journal Reflect and journal about a time when you experienced nonviolence for yourself. How did that moment change you? How did it change the situation or relationship that was in question? Write a letter (in your journal) to yourself from the perspective of someone who may be in conflict with you. Upholding a higher image of both yourself and the person with whom you have a conflict, try to see it from their eyes. Imagine what they may request of you. Were you raised in a home where there was violence? In what ways are you working to break the cycle of violence in your own family? Nonviolence Pledge Either in a family meeting or around your nonviolence altar, take time together, as parents and with the children, to commit to the principles of a pledge of nonviolence for the family. There is a pledge for parents from the Action Team to End Hitting Children, which is very powerful. You can see a version of it here. Print it out. Read it with other adults or on your own, sign it, and put it somewhere to be reminded of your commitment. Then, take time to create a pledge of nonviolence with your children. Here is a sample family pledge of nonviolence. You can use it or adjust it with everyone’s input.   Family Meeting This could take place around your nonviolence altar. Or in a space that you create intentionally to hold this meeting. Begin the meeting with something beautiful. Maybe a short song or a poem or an inspiring quote. Allow time for quiet reflection. Then, invite each other into the discussion. Continue the exercise from last month: Ask and answer the questions: Who are we as a family and what is the purpose of our family? What do we care about in the world? How do we hope to treat one another? What do we wish for one another? Invite a conversation about how we have a deep power within us for peace as individuals and how as a family we can expand ourselves into our wider community as a force for goodness. Invite some creative expression to wrap up the family meeting, such as coloring, […]

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What about the ‘others’?

“We get asked all the time in our workshops, ‘Well, isn’t violence just part of human nature?’ And I used to struggle responding to it, because it was hard to argue. It has always been part of our history. Then several years ago, I met Paul Chappell, a graduate of West Point turned peace activist. During his presentation at a conference, he said that every study that has ever been conducted shows that violence is traumatic. It can cause PTSD, depression, anxiety and permanent damage to our brain. And yet not a single person has ever been traumatized by an act of love. He then asked, ‘If violence is part of our nature, then why does it short-circuit our brain?’ Shouldn’t we be able to engage in it and not have it cause permanent damage? That to him was evidence that violence isn’t in our nature, that at the core of human nature are the things that fulfill us: love, joy, community, peace. And that is what we need today: a determined and dogged belief in the goodness of people. We need the fierce tactics of nonviolence to stop the immediate harm, and the principles of nonviolence to transform the pain. Without one or the other, we are always going to be spinning our wheels, fighting the next injustice or addressing the next hurt. I’ve been very privileged in my life. I’ve gotten to see so many people transformed from the most violent circumstances, that it might be easier for me to have faith in people. It is the greatest honor being able to work with incarcerated communities. Every day, I get to learn from people who have survived so much violence and in many cases have inflicted so much harm, yet have transformed to become some of the greatest peacemakers I’ve ever met. It gives me faith in the resiliency of people and in the core of human nature. And if I can have faith in their core and their ability to transform, why not the prison guards? Why not the politician who passed the laws that filled the prison? Or the corporate lobbyist who pushed for that legislation? Or the conservative voter who put those lawmakers into office? It may take seven generations, but if we are not working for a world that works for all of us, then what exactly are we working for? If we are working to change laws and policies, but the hearts and minds of the people are still corrupt and we still see each other as exactly that — ‘others’ — will we ever know peace? –Kazu Haga, from Why the moral argument for nonviolence matters.  Useful links about Daily Metta Have a question you’d like explored in Daily Metta? Write us. Want to see more Daily Mettas? Access the entire archives or visit GandhiDaily. To receive Daily Metta by email, simply subscribe.

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Changing perception of a campaign’s motives…

  “Who we are in the eyes of others is the image we project, but of course that image comes across differently for everyone who reads it because, as we know from the field of constructive conflict management, no two people’s perspective is identical. (…) How can we overcome these blocks to accurate perception of our [nonviolent] identity? Primarily through patient persistence and ongoing outreach. For example, after I went out into the north woods of Michigan in 1985 to physically dismantle a portion of a thermonuclear command center that was part of Project ELF (Extremely Low Frequency), I used my subsequent jail time to write letters to editors of small-town publications. I did an interview on the local affiliate of public radio. I met with the editor of the only daily paper in the area. Although the first reaction to my message in all cases was incredulity or hostility, careful reworking of the arguments, considerate reframing of the issues, and the simple discipline of restraint and establishing commonalities with the local people helped. It’s doable, but it takes time.” –Tom Hastings, “Apathy, Aggression, Assertion, and Action: Managing Image for Nonviolent Success,” from Exploring the Power of Nonviolence (ed. Randall Amster and Elavie Ndura)   Useful links about Daily Metta Have a question you’d like explored in Daily Metta? Write us. Want to see more Daily Mettas? Access the entire archives or visit GandhiDaily. To receive Daily Metta by email, simply subscribe.

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Two hands of nonviolence…

  “The late writer and activist Barbara Deming wrote about the two hands of nonviolence in her book-length essay, Revolution and Equilibrium: ‘With one hand we say to one who is angry, or to an oppressor, or to an unjust system, ‘Stop what you are doing. I refuse to honor the role you are choosing to play, I refuse to obey you, I refuse to cooperate with your demands, I refuse to build the walls and the bombs. I refuse to pay for the guns. With this hand I will even interfere with the wrong you are doing. I want to disrupt the easy pattern of your life.’ But then the advocate of nonviolence raises the other hand. It is raised outstretched — maybe with love and sympathy, maybe not — but always outstretched . . . With this hand we say, ‘I won’t let go of you or cast you out of the human race. I have faith that you can make a better choice than you are making now, and I’ll be here when you are ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.’ “ From blog post entitled: Ardhanarishvara: The Two Hands of Nonviolence     Useful links about Daily Metta Have a question you’d like explored in Daily Metta? Write us. Want to see more Daily Mettas? Access the entire archives or visit GandhiDaily. To receive Daily Metta by email, simply subscribe.

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The earth is breaking…

  Once upon a time, it happened in a forest that a hare was resting under a banyan tree. He had an intuition of doom and thought, “What would happen to me if the earth will break?” Suddenly, he heard a weird striking sound. He said, “It’s happened, the earth is breaking up.”He jumped up and ran madly without even observing the direction. When he was running through the forest, a hare saw him and asked, “What happened? Where are you going in such a hurry?” The Hare cried, “The earth is breaking up. You better run too.” The second hare ran so fast that he overtook the first hare. As they were passing the forest, both of them shouted to other hares, “The earth is breaking up. The earth is breaking up.” Very soon, thousands of hares were running through the forest. Very soon, thousands of hares were running through the forest. On seeing hares running through the forest, the other animals too got frightened. The news spread from mouth to mouth and soon, everyone came to know that the earth was breaking up. It didn’t take much time before all the animals joined the race. All creatures whether reptiles or birds, insects or four-footed animals, everyone was trying to escape and their cries of fear created chaos all around. A lion standing on a hill saw all the animals running and thought, “What is the matter?” He ran down the hill rapidly and positioned himself in front of the crowd. He shouted at them, “Stop! Stop!” The powerful presence of the lion curtailed the rising wave of fright among the animals. A parrot yelled, “The earth is breaking up,” alighting on a rock near him. The Lion asked, “Who said it?” The parrot replied, “I heard it from the monkeys”. When the monkeys were asked, they replied that they had heard it from the tigers. When the tigers were asked, it was found that they were informed by the elephants. The elephants told that the buffaloes formed their source. Finally, when the hares were caught up, they pointed one to another until the one, who started this menace was recognized. The Lion asked the hare, “What made you think that the earth is breaking up?” The hare wavering in fear answered, “Your Majesty, I heard it cracking with my own ears.” The Lion investigated the matter and explored the sound that the hare had heard. Ultimately, he came to know that the sound had been caused by a large coconut falling from a tree. The coconut fell on a pile of rocks causing a minor landslide. The Lion said to all the animals, “Go back to your homes. The earth is absolutely safe. Next time onwards, check a rumor before acting on it.” The animals agreed, feeling a bit silly for overreacting, and went back to their homes. Moral: Check a rumor before acting on it. (More: In nonviolence, learning skills of rumor abatement and using tools for […]

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Nonviolent strategy matters…

  “Some people naively think that if they simply assert their goal strongly and firmly, for a long enough period, they will somehow achieve their goal. Others assume that if they remain true to their principles and ideals, and witness to them in the face of adversity, then they are doing all they can to achieve their objectives. Some believe if they act courageously and sacrificially, there is nothing more they need to do. Still others simply repeat the type of action they have used in the past, or which they believe is required by their political doctrine, and have faith that they will eventually succeed. Assertion of desirable goals, remaining loyal to ideals, and persistence are all admirable, but are in themselves grossly inadequate to achieve significant goals. Mere repetition of actions that have failed in the past often makes success unachievable. The technique of nonviolent action has special characteristics, and there are important factors that contribute to its effectiveness. People in conflict situations often allow themselves to be distracted from their main goal by focusing on trivial issues, repeatedly responding to the opponents’ initiatives, and aiming only at short-term activities. Sometimes, too, people do not even attempt to develop a plan to achieve their goal, because deep down they do not really believe that they can succeed. These people–despite the impression they may offer–see themselves as weak, as helpless victims of overpowering forces. Therefore, they believe, the best they can do is to assert and witness, or even just die, in the faith that they are right. Consequently, they do not even attempt to think and to plan strategically about how to accomplish their objective. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you do not believe you will succeed, and therefore do not take deliberate steps to increase your chances of doing so, you will usually fail.” –Gene Sharp, from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, p. 441.     Useful links about Daily Metta Have a question you’d like explored in Daily Metta? Write us. Want to see more Daily Mettas? Access the entire archives or visit GandhiDaily. To receive Daily Metta by email, simply subscribe.

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