Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Nonviolence for Positive Change

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"What does nonviolence mean to you at a time like this?”

In a word: everything.

Nonviolence is the practical representation of my love and respect for humanity given my deep concern with current conditions.

I write a lot, in my efforts to promote peace and justice I’ve written nearly 100 op-eds (syndicated by PeaceVoice here) since Donald Trump was elected. Thinking about peace, caring about peace, and declaring fidelity to causes of justice are good, but nonviolence is the strategic avenue for acting on these promises and upholding my values.

It is challenging and deeply personal.

On May 30th, 2020 I joined thousands of protesters at the “Free Stamp” (a sculpture, of a stamp, emblazoned with the word “Free”) in downtown Cleveland. We were assembled to express support for Black Lives and to join the chorus decrying the suffering we experienced in witnessing the murder of George Floyd. We marched and chanted.

On May 30th, I was also attacked—by my own government—with chemical weapons. Without warning, or an order to disperse, the Cleveland Police Department attacked civilians with chemical munitions (including teargas). [In recent weeks I have issued my complaint and provided evidence regarding this violation, I trust positive changes will be made.]

On the drive home I felt these tears inside me. I have taught nonviolence for over a decade; it was the late 90s when I last threw a punch. I’m committed to nonviolence for personal, practical, and spiritual reasons (as imperfect as I am) and I cannot recall a time I felt stronger retributive and vengeful desires. By the time I arrived home I had processed my feelings, the lingering chemical residue lingered in my nostrils for another couple days…

I do not mean to be gratuitous, but without training in nonviolence I know anger would get the best of me. I would have responded to the escalatory violence of the militarized police department in kind. I would degrade the messages for peace and justice by becoming an example used to twist reality and justify the violence to begin with. The psychological responses in fight, flight, and flee have required me to work. Whatever toxic masculinity I unintentionally absorbed no longer causes me to lash out, but it was dramatically present that day.

I have learned: whatever the problem, violence is never the solution.

I worry.

Scholarship on peace and conflict presents serious concerns for potential political violence with the upcoming election, regardless of who wins. This trend precedes, but has been exaggerated by, Trump’s presidency. The bipartisan Freedom House organization now ranks the US 52nd in the world in “Global Freedom.” Our democratic norms and practices have been eroded; contested results in our upcoming election, use of the military to suppress protests and public gatherings, executive orders and other abuses, and disrespect to the democratic transfer of power, could result in civil war (already threatened) or other mass violence.

History and expertise present great need for a force more powerful, like the nonviolence used to oust Slobodan Milosevic in his efforts to steal an election. Given the threats already present all Americans should be prepared to engage in mass nonviolent civil resistance, if necessary.

I absolutely hope that the threats do not manifest. I hope that cool heads prevail and that current indicators and threats are exaggerated representations of real, but inflated, political divides. But it is good practice for everyone to be prepared; nonviolence is the only tool that can defend the country and the vote should we experience attacks against our democratic institutions or political violence surface this fall.

Whether or not our country ends up in need of saving, it is already in clear need of healing. Nonviolence is the strategic mechanism for applying pressure to deliver positive change. The largest and most persistent movements opposing police brutality are happening, people are resisting oppression, and needed positive change is on the horizon. This can only be achieved with a continued commitment to nonviolence.

When I love my neighbors and take the time understand their concerns, I give us the chance to collaboratively problem solve and build community. I respect their humanity, sometimes we will disagree, but we all deserve our rights, safety, and security. Nonviolence is the only protection of personhood, any other coercive or destructive force is part of the problem, and currently it is all at stake.

Wim Laven, Ph.D, an instructor of peace studies, political science, and conflict resolution, does research on forgiveness and reconciliation. He serves on the executive boards of the International Peace Research Association and its North American affiliate the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He is also a member of the ACN Steering Committee. Wim is a writer with numerous pieces syndicated by Peace Voice and he also works on the editorial team for the Peace Chronicle magazine. His experiences in the field range from mediating disputes in small claims court to interventions during complex humanitarian disasters.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Wonder Woman State of Mind

                                          wonderGal | stock photos used: Gal Gadot: www.deviantart.com… | Flickr

“Now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be.” --Diana (Wonder Woman), Wonder Woman movie

Has my fascination and admiration of this Wonderful superhero gone so far as to permeate into a blog post meant to highlight my current thoughts of peace and nonviolence? While the obvious answer is a definite “yes,” I do not believe that it is something to be frowned upon, and I write today to share with you why that is.

Each day I realize more and more that the world we are currently living in is an odd mix of uncertainty, ignorance, disregard for human life, and positive, progressive, and compelling change. A global pandemic has not only amassed great uncertainty on multiple fronts, but also has unearthed and exposed blatant ignorance and disregard for human life that exists in so many individuals. By this I am referring to those who consistently refuse to wear a mask, commit themselves to haphazard arguments that attempt to negate science, and do not believe that COVID-19 poses a very real and dangerous threat. On a more optimistic note, immense change is occurring, and by this I am referring to the rising consciousness of the blatant racism that for centuries has poisoned our system, jeopardized and taken the lives of people of color, and crumbled our societal well being.

So what does Wonder Woman have to do with this, anyway? Well, it should be noted that my favorite superhero of all time has faced plenty of evil villains in her comic and cinema lifetimes. Even though Wonder Woman is generally involved in head-to-head conflicts with a singular super-villain, that evil individual is often a representation of multiple flaws within the world with questionable, yet intriguing motives and objectives. One might even say that they’re an “odd mix,” a living contradiction.

Now, more than ever, a Wonder Woman state of mind is essential. We will always live in a world that is an “odd mix” of things, where ideals that contradict each other seem to somehow coexist. What’s important is that we prioritize and fight (like Wonder Woman), for the hopeful and joyful components of that mix, for instance, progress towards peace and equality. After all, “only love can truly save the world.”

So I implore you: stay, fight, and give.

Tyler Easton is a Junior Peace Scholar at Ashland University majoring in Spanish and International Business with a minor in Ethics. He is a member of the ACN Steering Committee and the leader of the ACN mentoring program at Taft Intermediate School. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Nonviolent Communication and Compassionate Confrontation

  Never put your ‘but’ in the face of an angry person”  --Marshall Rosenberg 

These certainly are polarized, politically charged, turbulent times in our society.  A myriad of issues--including systemic racism, police brutality and economic inequality--call for our attention.   And, in the midst of this, we all have family members or friends who see the world differently and act in ways that we judge to be unjust, violent or harmful.  How is it possible to relate to those whom we deem to be “on the other side?”

Principles developed by Marshall Rosenberg and implemented through an organization that he founded, the Center for Nonviolent Communication (cnvc.org), have been helpful to me when considering these issues.  For those who aren’t familiar with Rosenberg’s work, a good place to start would be Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Third edition, 2015) or Speak Peace in a World of Conflict: What You Say Next Will Change Your World (2005).  While I am somewhat of a newcomer to the approach outlined below, the basic ideas resonate with teachings from the great world religious traditions that I have studied and taught for the past three decades.

What are the components of the nonviolent communication (NVC) process that can help us relate to others with whom we disagree and, even more, diffuse (and perhaps even transform) personal and social conflict?  The process begins, first of all, with a nonjudgmental observation of another person’s behavior or the situation in which we find ourselves.   Simply speak what we see without evaluation or criticism. This is admittedly tricky since most of us tend to offer value judgments before we realize we are doing it.  Secondly, we discern the feelings that arise within us based on our observations. Do we feel hurt or frightened or frustrated or angry?  Here we should allow emotions to arise without using what have been described as “victim verbs” that blame others.  If someone makes a racially insensitive comment or launches a personal attack upon us we should identify how it makes us feel and try to understand our needs before moving toward thoughts such as “you are a racist” or even “you make me angry.” The behavior of others may be a stimulus for our feelings but they are not the cause.  Thirdly, we ask what are the needs, values or desires connected with feelings we have identified.  Most of us have a difficult time separating feelings from needs.  When our needs are not being met, we often find fault in others rather than taking responsibility for ourselves.  Finally, we can move to making requests of others (rather than demands).  Requests should be framed in direct, positive ways:  concrete actions that others can undertake rather than vague, ambiguous comments that leave people wondering what we are wanting.  Underlying all of this is the need for empathy. Listen for the hurt and pain in others and, as Rosenberg puts it, “appreciate the humanness in those who speak or act inhumanely.”

This brings us to the amusing quote with which I began these reflections.  When faced with someone who is angry, disgruntled or opposed to our viewpoints, our first response is often to confront them by saying, “But…” followed by a series of arguments or some expression of defensiveness.  Perhaps instead we could pause, take a breath and try to understand their feelings and needs.  We can look for something in their humanity with which we connect.  Then we can make reasonable, clearly stated requests in keeping with our value system.   Of course this may not be possible in every situation, especially when tensions are heightened. Nevertheless, as Arun Gandhi has written in the forward to Rosenberg’s book, it can be a “significant first step toward changing our communication and creating a compassionate world.”      

David Aune is the current chair of the Religion department at Ashland University and a founding member of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence

Monday, July 6, 2020

Thinking About White Privilege "In the Moment"

As Robin DiAngelo writes in White Fragility, if you talk about the “good old days,” you are white. The old days have not been so good for others.
I have been thinking a lot about white privilege since the death of George Floyd and the continuing protests against systemic racism in this country. Thinking about white privilege is not an easy task for white people. For many, hearing someone utter the term “white privilege” touches off such emotional resistance that nothing else said in that context can be heard. It is appropriate to start with a definition. Simply put, our society functions in a way that has allowed most of us white people to move through our daily lives quite nicely without thinking about race, while the institutional patterns of our society operate to the disadvantage of people of color. When whites do think about race, we intentionally or unintentionally hold ourselves as the standard by which other races are measured and usually fall short, except for exotic realms such as music, food, and presumed athleticism or sexual prowess.
White people have been living in the cozy milieu of white privilege all our lives, and as my daughter put it (quoting from some source), “Fish do not feel the water.” Another way to characterize our comfort with the only system we white people know is Tim Wise’s statement, “We are born to belonging” (White Like Me). When I walk into a shop, I never give a thought as to whether I am welcome or viewed with suspicion. Whenever I was interviewed for a job, it was always by a person of my own race. When I was stopped by a police officer, I was treated with the utmost courtesy. I could go for days, months, and years and never think about how my race affected my relationships and my life chances.
Having white privilege pointed out to white people typically brings a defensive response, usually something like,
1. “Anyone can make it in America if they work hard.”

2. “There are bad actors and sometimes a bad break, but there is no system of discrimination.”

3. “I did not create this system and am not responsible for it.”

4. “It is too widespread. I personally try not to take advantage, but I can’t do anything about it.”

5. “It may have been true in the past, but it has been remedied by civil rights legislation like Affirmative Action that tips the balance the other way now.”

Defensiveness and discomfort are understandable. Those of us who feel we personally are accepting, inclusive, and fair-minded do not like to face the fact that we have benefited from a system that gave us advantages by holding others down. Simply put, discussing race and privilege makes us feel we might not be as good and decent as we thought we were.

Adults attending a recent Trump rally with their children said they told the children that they do not see color, color does not matter, so the protesters are just troublemakers who do not like the president and THEY are the racists for making a big deal of color. Interesting, that idea of not seeing color. Many liberal white people say too: We are colorblind. Race makes no difference to us. However, we do see color—all of us do. We shut our eyes to the consequences of color, says Tim Wise, and that is far different and more sinister than not seeing color.

Is there a fear that giving up privilege and advantage will mean something will be taken away from whites? Our own personal privileged position in society may be a matter of luck (being born with white skin), but is it not scary and unfair to have to give it up? What exactly would we be giving up if all people were truly equal? Economists and other social observers tell us we would have a stronger economy and society if we had greater equality. Eugene Robinson, syndicated columnist, wrote, “What makes this moment of upheaval and protest different is that so many white Americans see how racism is a ball and chain that holds all of us back — and see what a braver, fairer, stronger nation we can be if we confront our original sin with honesty and determination” (appeared in Ashland Times-Gazette 7/1/20).

That sounds optimistic! I need to look into this a little more. I will let readers know what I find.

Dorothy Stratton is Professor Emerita of Social Work, having taught for 28 years at Ashland University. She is one of the founders of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.