Category: Michael Nagler

Meaning of Pittsburgh

Michael Nagler offers a personal reflection on Pittsburgh, and how it is helping him to deepen his commitment to nonviolence.

Yesterday’s headline in our local paper (The Santa Rosa Press Democrat) boasts PITTSBURGH MASSACRE DETAILED. We could not ask…

My remarks at the UN

On October 2, 2018, I was invited by the Indian Mission to make some remarks at the United Nation’s International Day of Nonviolence meeting. It happened to be Gandhi’s 149th birthday. Here is my speech:  I am so pleased and honored to be sharing with you this opportunity to honor and celebrate this 149th charkha jayanti, or ‘spinning wheel birthday,’ which is how Gandhi wanted his day to be remembered. My spiritual teacher once said that the 20th Century would come to be remembered not as the atomic age but the age of Gandhi; so I am proud to be with you to honor the man and his legacy. A few days after the Mahatma’s assassination on January 30th, 1948 (ten days after my 11th birthday) the cover of Life Magazine was a photo depicting the outpouring of grief at his cremation, which left a distinct (and possibly deliberate) impression of otherness in my young mind. I suppose I was drawn to nonviolence, but vaguely, at an early age, but there was little opportunity to learn about it or even hear the word nonviolence in those days and my image of Gandhi was limited to that somewhat off-putting photograph. So I didn’t really become aware of him until I met my aforementioned teacher in Berkeley, CA right after the Free Speech Movement, in 1966. That was Sri Eknath Easwaran from Kerala, who had met Gandhi, been deeply influenced by him (this perhaps is an understatement) and would go on to write two books about him and his legacy, Gandhi the Man and Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, of course Badshah Khan. From Sri Easwaran I came to understand that Gandhi was far greater than I could have imagined and at the same time, paradoxically, more accessible. As Gandhi himself said in what may be his most important of so many memorable quotes, “I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can do what I have done…” It is nothing short of amazing how many men and women have taken up that very challenge in the decades since he uttered those portentous words. We are met at a time when nonviolence: is spreading over the globe – well over one-half of all countries have now experienced a major manifestation; the Global Nonviolent Action Database recently passed the 1,000 mark in its listing of notable campaigns, is growing in sophistication, with learning and the sharing of “best practices” spreading across national boundaries – student leaders of the Otpor revolution in Serbia stood side by side with the protestors of Tahrir Square, has drawn in new demographics, particularly women and indigenous groups – and we remember how critical it was when in 1911 two new groups were drawn into the Satyagraha struggle in South Africa: women (again) and the indentured laborers, seen the rise of new institutions, I cite particularly the institution of Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping, of which the HIPPO report concluded that “Unarmed strategies must be at the […]

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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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A Story + A Request for Help

Dear friends, After three intense hours at a rally for white supremacy in Gainesville, Florida, three simple words “I don’t know” rang out with power. Aaron Courtney, who is black, stood across the lines from Randy Fourniss, whose attitude was proclaimed by the swastikas on his body and clothing. For three hours Courtney stayed with Fourniss, trying to reach him. He even tried to hug him, three times. Fourniss barely looked at him, much less let himself be embraced. That is, until the third try. Finally, Fourniss and Courtney embraced each other, and Courtney, in tears, felt the time had come to ask, “Why do you hate me?” Fourniss didn’t have an answer. Or rather he had the perfect answer: “I don’t know.” Imagine how scary, and how painful it must have been for Courtney to stay at a white supremacy rally for three hours. To even be there in the first place. And what it must have taken for Fourniss to admit that he had no rational basis for his hatred. That’s the measure of how effective Courtney was with his commitment to nonviolent discipline. It is a story of courage, dedication, steadfastness in love, and a willingness to hold up a higher image of who we are to one another. No wonder Arabic speakers call nonviolence ‘sumud,’ ‘persistence, or endurance,’ and Latin Americans talk about ‘firmeza permanente.’ We get to see examples of this every day, the world over. These are the kind of real-life stories that need to be told, shared person-to-person, and group-to-group, because this is who we really are. We need to be reminded of that. We need to remind each other every single day! It’s that tough out there for all of us. Perhaps this is why, even in the midst of a growing sense of demoralization in our political and socio-economic climate, we maintain an unshakeable faith in the vision of a more just, humane, and nonviolent world: because we see it in action. Every single day. Each of these victories is a victory for nonviolence everywhere. For you. For everyone. We believe the Metta Center has a unique ability to build upon these stories and draw out their lessons for individuals, groups, and movements, to help us all learn to use the unmatched power of nonviolence in our own lives. We share a larger, almost untold story that is unfolding in our midst, from the science that supports the power of nonviolence in our human nature, to its strategic import, its history and vast potential—developing and drawing out the simple but powerful tools of nonviolent action. And we’re working with dedicated, courageous, and sincere people all around our beautiful world. You are one of them. If you’d like a glimpse of our exciting plans for the next three years (or one hundred!), have a look at We will need your help and support as we move forward, full-steam ahead, to realize those plans. We are incredibly proud to be your home […]

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Disturbance at UC Berkeley: A Few Thoughts

RESONATING as it did with widespread feelings of frustration and impotence, the “successful” action last week to prevent right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at the invitation of student Republicans on the Berkeley campus has been met with a certain grudging admiration even by those in the peace and nonviolence fold. This, while understandable on the emotional level, I regard as a huge mistake (hence the quotes above around “successful”). It was feelings of frustration and impotence that after all brought us to this pass, where the “world’s oldest democracy” has fallen victim to a kind of pre-fascist takeover; nothing less than a “soft coup” that’s still in place. What could have been done instead? First of all, while Chancellor Dirks was absolutely correct that he could not cancel the obnoxious speaker because of the protection of free speech that students fought so passionately, myself among them, to secure over half a century ago. And we would not want it any other way. Yiannopoulos’s behavior, however, is not necessarily protected by free speech principles or legislation; it falls under the “fighting words” exception because of the way he incites hatred and actually outs undocumented students, making them vulnerable to deportation. That could have been pointed out. We could have had the students who invited him to make it a debate. That would have created what we call a “dilemma action,” as any decent thinker and speaker could neutralize a venomous performance by Yiannopoulos, if they accepted, and he would look bad if he did not. Finally, all that having failed, we could have responded with effective civil disobedience. We almost did it in 1983, when UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was shouted down by students opposed to Reagan’s policy on El Salvador (and no doubt much else). I say “almost” because the students who stopped her should have stepped forward and cheerfully accepted the consequences of their action, which they did not. That would have been classic civil disobedience then, and could have been now. It is because we were not prepared for any of this, and not prepared with a way to deal with provocateurs or anarchists as any demonstration must be today, that the anarchists (and/or provocateurs) did it their way. They will argue, of course, that nonviolence as only a misguided moral stricture. This is a category error. Nonviolence is a kind of power; the finest kind available for enduring social change. Make that, the only kind for enduring social change. For look what the anarchist disruption has done: made the unscrupulous Yiannopoulos out to be some kind of martyr and Berkeley’s commitment to free speech to be some kind of hypocrisy. Nor is this an isolated result: modern research has shown that a “violent flank” almost always hurts an otherwise helpful movement, just as it has shown that nonviolence is twice as effective in one third the time and leads to more democratic freedoms than violence every time (even when if “fails”). They will cite the catchy […]

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Notes on Nonviolence Strategy: Part 2

This post is the second part of a two-part series. Part 1 looks at the outward aspects of strategy: creating a proactive, long-term nonviolent movement. This part turns to the inner aspects of strategy: exploring who we are as human beings and building meaningful lives. Man appears to be the embodiment of want. Want is what he thinks about and want indeed is what he obtains. Contemplate your true being or else there will be want, wrong action, helplessness, distress, and death. ~ Anandamayi Ma It occurs to me more and more as I listen to the arguments and discussions stirred up by the current crisis that in order to make sense of this crisis for ourselves and to one another we need to start much earlier, from something very basic. We need to ask ourselves, each one of us, three questions: Who am I as a human being? What do I need to be fulfilled? What could I become, i.e. what would that fulfillment look like? If this proposition strikes you as a bit out of place ⎯ who has the luxury to delve into philosophy when the world is burning? ⎯ you are not alone.  In the world that we live in today, in this post-industrial culture or whatever we want to call it, the very idea of asking such deep questions is off the table. It never occurs to the vast majority of us. But that’s precisely why I think we have to do it. Because our unspoken answers to these questions are driving us into action, and because it never occurs to us to “contemplate our true being,” as the great saint of modern Bengal quoted above urges, the fate she warns us about sounds very much like what we’re actually going through right now. Having said as much, let me offer my three answers: We are body, mind, and spirit. Once food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of we need a rich network of relationships ⎯ aka community ⎯ and above all a high purpose for which to live: we need meaning. We can become more and more aware of our own spiritual nature and through that our essential connectedness with all that lives. These answers are not my special discovery, needless to say: they are the consensus of the entire wisdom tradition that Huxley called the “perennial philosophy” common to virtually every culture (before our own) and progressively supported in every point by contemporary science. For example, regarding the second point, an impressive volume of scientific literature has established from many different perspectives the critical importance of a sense of meaning, and the pervasive demoralization we are going through because, as John Schumacher recently pointed out, “the assumptions underpinning our allegiance to consumerism are fundamentally dehumanizing.” For this reason, he continues, “Frustration, anger and bitterness are usual (I would say, inevitable) accompaniments.” Much of the discussion about the current crisis has brought out, quite correctly, that this particular Presidency did not just happen […]

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Notes on Nonviolence Strategy: Part 1

This first post looks at the outward aspects of strategy: creating a proactive, long-term nonviolent movement. The second part will be posted tomorrow, and it will consider the inner aspects of strategy: exploring who we are as human beings and building meaningful lives. It has been heartwarming to see the passion with which many Americans have said their “No!” to the policies of hatred and intolerance put forward by this extremely unfortunate administration. We are not and never will be a land of hate. At the same time, passion must be harnessed. Nonviolence advocates and scholars are very aware of the limitations of what we call “the effervescence of the crowd.” As Erica Chenoweth, George Lakey, and others are pointing out, to prevail against the current barrage of attacks on our democracy – and moral character as a nation – we must be sure to develop the resurgent movement, with the following guidelines: Switch to, or at least add a proactive component to our actions. We can rapidly become burned out by “resistance fatigue” if all we are doing is reacting to the atrocities which are so easy for the administration to do. We must not let them pull the strings. We must not stay only on the defensive. In order to create a proactive, and long term movement it is essential to come up with a strategy. Many successful movements have begun as a spontaneous outburst of “no” but gone on to dedicate themselves to an answering “yes.” As Gandhi pointed out, a merely negative movement will not long endure, whether it fails or succeeds; and endurance is the key to our success. As King said, we must be prepared to “wear down” the opposition by matching their brutality with our endurance and refusal to hate. Metta is committed to facilitate strategic thinking along the lines of Roadmap or anything else: we have begun to promote more actively our arc of restorative justice, from schools to prisons to the international arena. And of course: In all this we must maintain our nonviolent discipline. The post-inaugural women’s marches around the country were exemplary in this respect, and that’s highly encouraging. The exploding interest in training is again extremely encouraging in this regard: cf. the nonviolence training hub for opportunities. In addition to the way nonviolence has been growing in several dimensions other than just size – the collaboration of many communities, the expansion of research and education, etc. – we have noted with great appreciation the signs of greater sophistication here and there across the growing movement. These include recognizing the need for all the points just listed, the relaxation of the rigidity of certain ideologies, for example that against any kind of leadership, and doubtless others that will manifest in the coming months. We would never have wished things to come to this pass in this country or around the world; but we will not let these circumstances defeat us. As Valerie Kaur said in an extremely passionate statement […]

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Celebrating Nonviolence: January 20 & Beyond

January 20, 2017 is Michael Nagler’s 80th birthday. It is also the inauguration date for the 45th president of the United States. “Nonviolence isn’t about putting the right person in power; it’s about awakening the right kind of power in people.” ~ Michael Nagler, Founder & President of the Metta Center for Nonviolence As a lifelong scholar and spiritual practitioner, Michael Nagler has made vast contributions to the field of nonviolence. He co-founded the Peace and Conflict Studies program at UC, Berkeley, and he is the author of the American Book Award-winning Search for a Nonviolent Future. Many of us are familiar with the term “people power;” Michael coined the term “person power,” to describe how nonviolence truly begins—when an individual converts a negative drive (fear, anger, aggression) into a positive drive (universal love, compassion, resilience). Michael’s birthday aligns with the inauguration of a president who will, unwittingly, increase humanity’s desire for nonviolence. So we’re out to accomplish two things: 1. Honor Michael’s birthday and 2. Support the initiatives that he is directly involved in at the Metta Center. We would like to create 100 Person Power Awards for Michael while also raising funds for his beloved life’s work. Perhaps Michael was your favorite teacher at UC, Berkeley. Maybe his webinars and books helped you grow your understanding of nonviolence. Whatever the case, here’s your chance to award him! Head to our campaign page and show your support.

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Turning the Tables – Podcast

How is the trickster archetype playing out in society today? Who is the trickster? Is dedication to truth waning? How can we, using nonviolence, “turn the tables” on the trickster, and how can we “flip the script” in situations of conflict? This week on Nonviolence Radio, Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook have an interesting discussion answering these questions and more, followed by news, resources, hope, and truth in the latest episode of Nonviolence in the News. Don’t miss it! Listen to the show here! (Or go underneath the bio box below to find ways to download this show  or listen through our player on this page…)  

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Core of Ahimsa: Daily Metta

“God resides in every human form, indeed in every particle of His creations, in everything that is on His earth.” ~ Gandhi, Mahtama 4. 124 In our Western worldview, to the extent that it recognizes the existence of a being we can call God, that being is said to have created the world, more or less the way a carpenter creates a table. This has created a sense that God is apart from the world, apart from us—a concept that the mystics of all ages, including our own, refute. The Quakers, for example, speak of “that in God in every man” (person). It is easy to see how this belief, which has always been more mainstream in India, would lead to an aversion to violence and keen sense of human dignity, which, as we’ve often seen in these quotations, is the core of ahimsa. Thanks for sharing a comment below. About Daily Metta Stephanie Van Hook, the Metta Center’s executive director, launched Daily Metta in 2015 as a way to share Gandhi’s spiritual wisdom and experiments with nonviolence. Our 2016 Daily Metta continues with Gandhi on weekdays. On weekends, we share videos that complement Michael Nagler’s award-winning book, The Search for a Nonviolent Future: A Promise of Peace for Ourselves, Our Families, and Our World. To help readers engage with the book more deeply, the Metta Center offers a free PDF study guide. Enjoy more Daily Metta: See the  archives Get Daily Metta by email: Subscribe    

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