Category: Metta Blog

THE POST: A (somewhat biased) review

For full disclosure, I’m a long-term friend of Dan and Patricia Ellsberg, was a more distant friend but also admirer of Ben Bagdikian, I lived through the era depicted, and since I see very few movies I tend to have strong reactions to those I do. That said, I had a very strong, very positive reaction to this Stephen Spielberg film about the decision by Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), supported by her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), to publish the devastating “Pentagon Papers” in 1971. I cannot remember being so engrossed in a movie, and while it was not as transcendentally inspiring perhaps as “Gandhi” it was uplifting and spell-binding for me. It depicts a “finest hour” of American democracy, which itself would make it more than relevant to our America’s present dismal time; add to this, however, the superb treatment of the women’s issue and the just plain great acting. Advisory: if you go in expecting the film to be about Ellsberg and his struggle with himself to risk everything to release the devastating news to the public, or the role Patricia played in supporting him, you will be disappointed. That story is in the superb documentary by Judith Ehrlich, “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” as well as Dan’s book Secrets and many other histories. The mark of a great film-maker (or novelist, for that matter) is to have the restraint to tell one story at a time. I appreciate that enormously, as one who has yet to find that kind of restraint. Now the Metta angle: what does the film say about nonviolence? A lot. First of all, how raw courage and the power of that act of will by which a man or woman, seeing beyond the ordinary vision of personal gain and loss, decides to risk even perhaps their life for a higher cause. In Dan’s case, his career and his very freedom, e.g. to be with the wife he loved. In Ms. Graham’s case, the paper she loved and lived for along with the rebuttal of the stereotype against women, that they can’t compete in the “real world” of business, or places of cutthroat competition. Then there’s the glimpse it offers of what Johan Galtung named the “Great Chain of Nonviolence:” the way people low on the social/political latter, seemingly without access to power, can reach the seats of the mighty through those near them, who know others on up the chain. In this case the spectrum goes from street protestors (as I was) to an insider like Dan who “saw the light” (itself a lesson in the humanity and convertibility of our opponents) to the upper echelons of journalism and government. Then, a larger lesson of the more sobering type. Would a whistle-blower on that scale enjoy the protection of the Supreme Court today? What must we do to capitalize on these moments of brilliant courage when they happen; to make sure they are ratcheted up to permanent and beneficial change?

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Rehumanization inside prisons

In this 8-minute TedX Talk from within Graterford State Prison, we get to turn the spotlight on the science of nonviolence through the power of rehumanization. Reflection: In what ways have your experiences shaped your views on the prison system in your country, and what is one thing you learned from Anthony Wyatt’s talk?  

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What a Satyagrahi Knows

This guest post was contributed by George Cassidy Payne, the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. He is also a writer, a domestic violence counselor, and an adjunct professor of philosophy. George lives and works in Rochester, NY. You can follow him on LinkedIn. The most powerful force in the universe is not electromagnetism, gravity or time. The greatest force in the universe is Satyagraha, which technically means a firm or steadfast adherence to Truth. Satyagraha is the most powerful force in the universe because it is the universe. It is the moral dimension of the universe revealing itself through social and political action. Mohandas Gandhi coined the term in 1906 while leading a nonviolent resistance movement against the British. He wrote: None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term “passive resistance” in describing it. I did not quite understand the implication of “passive resistance” as I called it. I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase “passive resistance” gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit this great struggle to be known only by an English name… I thus began to call the Indian movement “satyagraha,” that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance” in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word “satyagraha” itself or some other equivalent English phrase. This then was the genesis of the movement which came to be known as Satyagraha, and of the word used designation for it. Tactically, there are four main components that must be in place to activate Satyagraha. Firstly, a Satyagrahi must comprehend that all life is interconnected. From the ant to the aurora borealis, all life forms-including physical, mental and spiritual-are one at the source of their creative purpose. The second principle is that persuasion overcomes coercion. That is to say, there is a long term advantage to convincing an adversary to understand and empathize with your perspective. Compelling opponents through intimidation or bribery is only temporarily effective, and it always has unintended consequences. Thirdly, a Satyagrahi knows that ends and means must be aligned. Mohandas Gandhi referred to a surgeon who uses contaminated tools and expects a successful operation, which is an attitude that is both illogical and irresponsible. Fourthly, a Satyagrahi is transparent in all matters. In any struggle the truth is pursued in good faith, with an open mind, and with sincerity. Gandhi once wrote, “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.” Underlining each of these four components is a conscious belief in the spectacle of bravery—the type that can only be manifested through […]

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A Word from Volunteer Lamisa Mustafa

Dear Metta Center Friends, I first learned about the Metta Center last December, when my mentor and I were looking into UC Berkeley’s Peace & Conflict Studies program, which was of course founded by the Metta Center’s Michael Nagler. After I came across a call for volunteers on Facebook this summer, I asked if I could help remotely, as I’m living out my human rights journey at Southern Methodist University, in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. Since June of this year, I’ve been volunteering as a research assistant for Dr. Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook, the organization’s executive director. I’ve also helped edit/format a book chapter on nonviolence and the economy. My volunteer work makes a difference in my life, because I get to soak up the wisdom of nonviolent practitioners. It has also given me opportunities to share my own voice. I’ve published an autobiographical poem through the web version of Nonviolence magazine, and my essay about living as a Muslim in the US will run in the Winter/Spring 2018 issue of the magazine. Changing hearts and minds is the hardest work, but it is so rewarding. My peers, friends, family, and mentors help me realize that in this process of giving to the world, I am giving so much to myself. Social justice starts with each of us—we are our own human selves. The human rights champions around me—and those who are their true, unapologetic selves—fill me with hope. I feel at peace knowing that there are so many people fighting the good fight. I am hopeful, too, because all our journeys come together to form one human story. I appreciate being able to share some of my story with you here. Volunteering is one way to support the Metta Center’s work. Donating is also a powerful form of support. At the Metta Center, our community’s work is grounded in transforming ourselves, our relationships, and our world (no small tasks!). Any amount you can give will help the Metta Center reach more hearts and minds with the nonviolence resources the world desperately needs. Donate today! Thanks in advance for giving us a hand. I wish you and your loved ones the very best for the rest of 2017. Kindly, Lamisa Mustafa P.S. I’m passionate about the power of narratives in social justice. So I’m putting together a poetry anthology to celebrate human diversity and the human experience. I’m welcoming submissions til December 17.

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The Metta Center at Google

Michael Nagler, our founder, and Stephanie Van Hook, our executive director, recently spoke at Google. Hmm… Any guess on what they might have spoke about? You guessed it: They talked about the transformational powers of nonviolence. In his main presentation, Michael outlines the principles of nonviolence and how we can apply them today. He also discusses: how nonviolence has developed since Gandhi and King, the forces impeding the progress of nonviolence currently, how to shift the paradigm so as to release the power of nonviolence, and how to find our unique roles in the process of shifting the paradigm. At the very beginning of his presentation, Michael shares a preview of the documentary we’re working on with Metta friend Lou Zweier (thanks for all your amazing work, Lou!). It’s called The Journey Home, and we think you’re going to love it. Check out Metta’s presentation—and enjoy the preview of The Journey Home.

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Poetry: Submissions Call from a Volunteer

Lamisa Mustafa is a Metta Center volunteer and a first-year student at Southern Methodist University, where she is double majoring in Human Rights and Sociology, and minoring in French. She is passionate about the power of narratives in social justice. Through her poetry project Voices of Resilience, she will be creating a print and web-based anthology. Voices of Resilience will celebrate human diversity and the human experience. Lamisa seeks poems on any theme, in any language, and in any style (form, free verse, spoken word). Submissions will be welcomed by new and veteran poets alike. To submit: Email up to 3 poems by December 17, 2017: This project began with Lamisa’s participation in the Pangea Network’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference and is funded by the SMU Caswell Leadership Program. Lamisa is a talented poet herself. We recently ran her autobiographical poem “See the Dignity in Them, in Us” at She’s one to watch! Download the call for submissions flyer

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Be the Change, Be Yourself

This guest post was contributed by George Cassidy Payne, the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. He is also a writer, a domestic violence counselor, and an adjunct professor of philosophy. George lives and works in Rochester, NY. The world does not need more energy, cars, street lights, and computers. The world does not need more airports, superhighways, and mega cities. The world does not need more democracies and free markets. The world does not need more hospitals, medicines, and cures. The world does not need more agreements, treaties, and contracts. The world does not need more conversations, Facebook memes, and status updates. The world does not need more programs, grants, and scholarships. The world does not need more helpers and doers. The world does not need better high schools and colleges. The world does not need anything, not really. The world has everything that it will ever need. The world only needs to be left alone. Less tweaking and less tinkering. The world wants to be forgotten so that it can be lived. The world wants to be lost so that it can be saved. The world wants to be accepted just as it is. When Gandhi said be the change you want to see in the world, he meant be yourself. Change with the tide. Wash away with the current. Go away with the breeze. Take a breath. Become the void. Hold onto the anchor that steadies. For the world is changing all of the time. Be the change. In time, go with the world wherever it leads. Go with it. Do not try to stop it. Do not try to turn it back. Do not try to make it different. Rather change yourself. Turn as the leaves turn. Grow. Yearn for the sunlight. Stay rooted in the soil. Be one. Be the change. Be yourself. This is what Gandhi wanted us to understand. Elsewhere the Mahatma wrote: “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world—that is the myth of the atomic—as in being able to remake ourselves.” If anything at all, that is what the world needs. It needs people who are not afraid to remake themselves.

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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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