Category Archives: Communication
Last fall a 9-year-old Oregon boy named Ocean brought his inner peace and caring into the world this way…
Ocean was concerned about “bullying, arguments, and pushing” at his school. “They weren’t being nice to each other,” he said of his fellow third graders, and neither his peacemaking efforts nor the teacher’s interventions seemed to help. “Pretty soon, the kids would be right back to arguing and fighting.”
Frustrated, Ocean took the problem home, and thought about it. Finally, he came up with an idea: the Kindness Club.
Ocean wanted to make it easy for people to point out when someone wasn’t being kind. He’d also noticed that sometimes when you tell someone they aren’t being nice, they get defensive and keep arguing. So, he went online, ordered bracelets that said “Kindness Club,” and gave one to everyone in his class, including the teacher. Now, whenever kids see someone who isn’t being nice, they can tap their bracelets, a gentle reminder of a common goal.
Ocean’s teacher said it’s pretty typical for third graders to argue during recess – they’re at an age when they’re learning about how to have compassion for others, and “sportsmanship can be a tough lesson.” Noticing that this year there were lots of hurt feelings happening at recess, she spent a lot of time talking to the class about sportsmanship and being kind to one another, but the conflicts persisted. One day she was lecturing the class about getting along when Ocean raised his hand. He told the class about his idea for a kindness class. The kids talked about the idea, role-played different scenarios, and agreed to try the bracelets, which now serve as a constant reminder about their pact to be kind.
Ocean’s mom said her son is very caring, and that she’s proud of him for coming up with his own solutions. “It makes him happy to help others. If everybody really thought about being kind, it would change everything.”
Let’s follow Ocean’s example of coming up with ideas that will encourage the caring innate in each of us and help us solve problems together.
In my last post, “Creating peace on earth,” I tried to arouse your desire to take the peace you’re hopefully creating within out into the world. Saying I thought that together we could transform the hellish aspects of life on planet Earth in the early 21st century into comparative heaven, I promised some ideas on how to do this “in the coming days.”
This post is at least a beginning on that.
The first thing we have to do to create peace in the “outer” world is to cultivate it within. Because if we don’t bring real peace, real love, and real calm to our brothers and sisters in desperate, conflicted situations, we’ll just end up increasing the misery. If our motives are egoistic or based on an entrenched point of view, we need to go home and do some inner work. Are we bringing more anger, blame, and judgment into the world? That’s counterproductive. Are we just trying to make ourselves feel better, heal our own confusion? We need to own that and be aware of how it can hurt rather than help. We’re human beings, not angels, so we can’t wait to be perfect, but we need to be honest with ourselves and others about where we are in any given moment.
Going out into the world, we may encounter people who are angry and desperate enough to kill or otherwise grievously hurt themselves and others. Can we meet those people, or others lacking in skill and/or understanding where they are, with acceptance and compassion? Sometimes yes, if, as I said in my previous post, we’ve been “cultivating peace within – following a spiritual path and meditating or having quiet moments of just being – open to messages from that part of our intuition that’s a spark of the divine, our connection with everything and everyone else.” Sometimes no, because we’re human, and we fall back easily into a narrow, egoistic perspective. Sometimes, as noted above, the best we’ll be able to offer will be our honesty, admitting that we’re frightened or confused, wanting to be able to (fill in the blank), but having trouble doing that, because (fill in the blank).
We’ll be constantly moving between the inner and the outer, recharging alone and going back out. And we’ll need to strive as much and as often as possible to give ourselves the same understanding, love, and compassion – “empathy,” as Nonviolent Communicators call it – we want to be able to offer others. Feel the love and acceptance in the air, with no boundaries, because – and here comes another #1 – we are really one. What hurts others hurts me. As long as one of my brothers and sisters is in prison, I’m not free. Isn’t that why you want to do this work in the first place?
The third #1 that I want you to be aware of is – full disclosure – a belief of mine that you may not agree with; but I want to share it with you because of the urgency of solving the problems that concern us – also because I’d rather see you/us experience success and avoid frustration. It’s this: our current global and national political and economic system is fundamentally flawed, untruthful, and can never solve the problems it continues to create. I’m talking about the United States, in my eyes the most violent terrorist entity ever, and capitalism, whose profit motive prevents us from solving problems like environmental catastrophe, poverty, and war, to name a few. Gun control in the wake of the killing of little children in Newtown, Connecticut is, thankfully, a big issue right now, but we can’t have a clear discussion about it because of the gun lobby, the people who profit from the sale of automatic and other weapons and ammunition.
You can read my ideas about these kinds of issues, based on the third #1, elsewhere on this blog (and there’ll be more in the future) – basically, what I’m saying here is that I think working within the system and expecting our “leaders” to solve problems is a pipe dream, a waste of time. We have to take matters into our own peaceful but determined hands, and create alternatives that will eventually replace the forces, practices, and institutions that run things now.
So, there you have it – my three #1s:
- A spiritual practice that keeps you in touch with and accepting of what’s true for you and others in each successive moment;
- Love for yourself and others, including all life, because we’re one; and
- (this one’s optional) a realization that the current political and economic system won’t solve the problems that most concern us.
Once you have these primary goals/ideas/practices as a base to start from, you can work on whatever kind of problem draws you in most strongly. Do you want to be a peacemaker between struggling humans? Between humans and the environment? Work on the welfare of animals? The list could go on forever – there’s plenty to choose from.
Maybe I should have added a fourth #1 to the list, because something else to remember is that, as I said in my previous post, our individual acts can inspire others. “But we also need to get together – to organize and form affinity groups for both mutual support and planning actions and campaigns. Getting together multiplies our power exponentially, and history shows that when we’re steadfast in it, not even the mightiest government can stand against us. Hitler and Stalin are no more, and the American ‘evil empire’ won’t last forever either. Another world really is possible.”
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it will come as no surprise that my area of interest is world affairs, especially – because I’m a U.S. citizen – U.S. foreign policy. I feel partially responsible for trying to halt the U.S. death machine – the killing of innocent people (and, really, they’re all innocent, in the sense that violence never solves anything, and we’re all capable of causing harm) to create and maintain an empire and advance capitalist business interests.
I’ve also been big on ending injustice all my life, and one of the many epitomes of injustice for the past 60 years has been the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government, supported by the United States government. Which brings up a corollary to the third #1: Never take any government’s propaganda, perpetrated these days via the mass media, at face value. You have to look deeper, because governments are always lying, at least in part, to cover their real motives. The latest example of this, which I have yet to fully unravel, is the “need” to fight Islamic terrorists in northern Mali. Something funny’s going on between the United States and Algerian governments here (bearing in mind that Algeria is a dictatorship), and you can bet that the regular, real people on the ground (Tuaregs and others) have a different story to tell. But I digress…
What tools and resources can you find to help you and your group(s) with the work you want to do?
For basic support and understanding of principle #1, read Miguel Ruiz, Erhart Tolle, Byro Katie, or Adyashanti – a lot of what they’ve written is online (videos, too). The Zen Peacemakers have a website, as does the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Starhawk is a favorite resource of mine – read her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, or her books on pagan spirituality, or find her website online to see what she’s doing and blogging about.
Also, if you haven’t already, check out the work of Marshall Rosenberg and others in Nonviolent Communication. (Rosenberg has a book with that title, and others, and there’s much online, including videos.) We’ve learned a violent (separated) way of looking at the world and communicating with each other that we don’t even recognize as such. Communicating the NVC way (When I see/hear…, I feel …, because I need …Would you be willing to (specific action)?) can seem stilted when you first try it, and it takes years of practice to make it a habit, but you need this tool in your kitbag.
For your specific interest(s), ask others, read books and periodicals, and look online. Because of my specific interest(s), the tools I’d focus on – if I were doing more than, to be honest, just reading and writing this blog – would be things like tax resistance, the International Solidarity Movement, the Global Nonviolent Peace Force, and Witness for Peace (Google these terms to find out more). Queued up on my bookmarks to explore further this week are Naomi Klein on capitalism and climate change (a Moyers and Company video), open source ecology, A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution, and the 2012 Global Peace Index.
The works of Gene Sharp, available on the Albert Einstein Institution website, are invaluable for the kind of world peace organizing I’m interested in. I have much of Sharp’s work in hard copy and will let you know more when I’ve had a chance to read it. (Or you can let me know more when you have a chance to read it!)
Remember the story I told you in my previous post about David Hartsough, one of the founders of the Global Nonviolence Peace Force, and what he said to a white racist attacker when he (David) was sitting in at a lunch counter helping to desegregate it? Go back and read it if you haven’t yet. I said I was going to tell you more about David, but I still haven’t had time to research him. You can though – he seems like a leader in what we’re trying to do.
I’ll keep offering ideas, examples, and models…How about you? What do you have to offer, even if it’s just a question. Or a disagreement. Let’s start a conversation, and maybe form some partnerships or affinity groups.
Alice Walker on the “War on Terror,” Yes magazine, Fall 2012
I think the War on Terror is really absurd, especially coming from a country founded on terrorism. The hypocrisy of that is corrosive; and we should not accept it. There is no way of stopping terrorism if you insist on making enemies of most of the people on the planet. Why should they care about you? All they feel is fear.
So, I would stop the War on Terror and start making peace with the peoples of the planet by trying to understand them. I would like us to be able to say, “If that happened to me, I would feel exactly the way you do. And what can we do from here, from this understanding? What can we do together?”
Most of the graffiti I see on the brand-new surfaces of our stream-side bike path are the usual “tags” that, to me, are exactly like dogs peeing to mark territory. But, once in a while, there’s a gem, and I saw one yesterday: “Just Tao it.”
This morning I direct your attention to an editorial entitled “Should the Occupiers Stay or Go?” by Rick Salutin in today’s Toronto Star. Salutin says, “The Occupy movements have largely become dramas revolving around the excellent question posed by The Clash: Should I stay or should I go? It’s become a story about a place. Some, like London (Ontario) are gone. Others, like London (England) are on notice. Occupy Wall St. is gone but it’s back, in a different form. We’ll know about Occupy Toronto, apparently, tomorrow. But it’s possible that this is the wrong question. Let me offer another view based on a recent visit to Madrid.
The 15-M movement began there last May 15th with a protest held in Puerta del Sol square over the economic crisis that became an overnight occupation. When it was dismantled by authorities, a conflict ensued over whether they would stay or go. A month later, when they finally went, it was by choice. One veteran of 15-M (there are no leaders) said: ‘It was a strategic move that led to the survival of the movement.’ Almost happenstantially they had evolved another preference: to fan out into districts of the city (and elsewhere in Spain) and conduct regular meetings with local residents. These then forwarded proposals to a weekly assembly held in the square.
If you wander around Occupy sites, like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, as I did this week, you often see signs saying, Join Us. It’s hard to imagine many of the people who pass by and warily eye the huddled tents, doing so. The Madrid option in a way is the opposite. It’s: Join Them. Go into your neighborhood, try and talk with your neighbors, different as they may be from you. Listen to them as they talk to you and each other.
This is different from a campaign to simply carry the Occupy message (99 per cent versus 1 per cent, etc.) out to ‘the people.’ Some organizers of the Occupy movements, according to the New York Times, are heading in that direction: ‘trying to broaden their influence by deepening their involvement in community groups.’ But there’s a difference between trying to make a point (the organizers quoted by the Times) and trying to engender a social phenomenon (15-M). It’s the difference between trying to win an argument, and focusing on the process of discussion itself, in the hope that something transformative might emerge. ‘We are going to create a new social category,’ says one 15-M participant, the aim of which is not to convince people to vote a certain way or embrace particular views: ‘It’s simply a widening of the political landscape.’
A new layer of political process wasn’t 15-M’s agenda at the start. It came to what you could call its democratic emphasis gradually; the stress on process emerged from the process. It was never called an Occupy movement, so it had the advantage that its very name didn’t press it to stay where it was born.”
A similar phenomenon, that some friends and I have been discussing and are putting into action, involves elements of “the people” forming affinity groups based on location, workplace or work situation, or any other common interest, which meet to talk about needs and problems, and send spokespersons to connect with other groups – at Occupy sites or elsewhere. The public space we/the Occupy movement are claiming, using, and defending doesn’t have to be specific and permanent, day after day, month after month – though it can be for those who want to try to make it so. The same or other public spaces can be used periodically to connect groups who want to communicate with each other and to provide regular focal points for community meetings. At the same time, Occupy and other websites – some yet to be created – can provide virtual meeting places, offering discussion forums, interactive maps showing community resources, and needs/offerings listings of goods and services available for gift or barter.
The important thing is having the conversations, “widening the political landscape,” considering alternatives to the current, unacceptable system, and creating a new one by using this respectful, democratic, and inclusive process. We’re learning the ways of a better world already. It’s here now. “We make the path by walking.”