March 8, 2016

Of Astronomers and Astronauts: How to Empower Your Teens

This article was written for Parenting Beyond Punishment as part of their month-long No Spank Challenge to encourage and teach peaceful parenting. This article will also have an accompanying webinar. Those links will be posted here as they become available.

Teenagers. The wonderfully smart, independent, contrary, complex, emotional, and social people that live in your house and eat all your food. How can you empower them? Will they even listen to you? How can you build a supportive relationship with them? I have taught leadership for young people for many years. Let me shed some light on working with teens in peaceful and powerful ways.   

Imagine the job of an astronomer. They study objects in outer space. They study the moon. They look at the phases of the moon and the effect of the gravitational pull on our planet. They map the stars and planets and orbits. They do all of this critical observation from earth. It’s interesting. It’s useful. It’s very safe. Our parenting and our schools have spent the past ten years or so teaching our children to be astronomers and our children enjoyed it.

However, now that they are teenagers, they don’t want to be astronomers any more. They want to be astronauts. They want to go where they have not gone before. They want to leave the safety of earth, take risks and explore new worlds. They don’t want to look at the moon. They want to go to the moon! It’s exciting. It’s breathtaking. It’s risky and they can’t wait.

This can be very challenging when you have been Mission Control for so long because now they seem to have no mission and you have no control!

So what can you do? How can you empower them? How can you build a supportive relationship with them in this new vocation of theirs as risk-taking astronauts visiting new worlds?

Listen Without Judgment
First, your relationship with them has changed (whether you wanted it to or not!) To use the terms of the author Starhawk, your relationship has shifted from “power over” to “power with.” They no longer accept being told what to do but want to have their own voice. They have their own interests, ideas, dreams and passions. Take time to listen to them wholly and fully. Put down your phone, stop doing laundry or multi-tasking while talking to them. Like every person, they want to feel heard for their thoughts and ideas. Be present. Give them your full attention.  

Ask Questions that Encourage Them Along Their Path  
After they have told you their ideas, refrain from offering your opinion, your advice, your judgments or your perspectives. Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, especially between parents and teens. Ask questions that support them and their judgment. “What do you think is your next step?” Or, “what do you want to do about that?” And if you don’t know what your child wants or needs, it is perfectly ok to ask. “How can I be most helpful to you? Do you want me just to listen? Do you want my ideas?” Then, the conversation is on THEIR terms and you can support them in whatever ways are most helpful. Simply asking these sorts of questions shows respect for the young person and shifts the power dynamics of your relationship toward “power with.”  

Let Them Risk. Let Them Fail.    
Maybe they want to save the world. Maybe they are in the throes of their first romantic relationship. Maybe they want to get a job. As long as they are not on a path toward mental or physical trauma, let them go and try out their ideas. It’s like learning to ride a bike. The way you learn to ride a bike is by riding without Mom or Dad holding onto the seat. You try to balance, you wobble, you fall. Maybe you skin your knee. It hurts but it’s not life ending. And the exhilarating feeling! The wind in your hair. The moment when you felt balanced before the crash. Despite what our culture tells us, failure is good. It is how people learn. Expect it. They will only learn the balance of life after you let go and give them the freedom to fail.

Be Supportive
We all remember what it felt like to crash and burn as a teenager. Perhaps that first relationship? Or your first job? Or that hard class that you just couldn’t pass? What are the words you wanted to hear from your parent in those moments? “I told you so?” Probably not.

Try “I believe in you.” Or, “I know you will find a way forward that works.” Tell them your story when the same thing happened to you as a teen. It’s ok to be human with your children. It’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok to tell them when you failed too. Support them as they leave the gravitational pull of mother earth. This is the moment for which you have been preparing them for the last 14 or 16 years. Trust your parenting. You have done your best and now it is their turn.

I think you will be amazed to see the capabilities of your own child when they embark on a mission of their choosing. It may be one small step for your child but one giant leap for your parenting. I believe in you. You can do this. Commence empowerment in T-minus 10, 9, 8....  

January 16, 2016

"Remain Nonviolent"

On this 30th anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I reflect on the social turmoil of the past year. 1202 citizens were killed by police in the United States in 2015. Truly tragic. Something that echoes clearly in my head is the voices of our politicians who, in the face of unrest, told the public to "remain nonviolent."

As a teacher of nonviolence and leadership, what does that mean? "Remain nonviolent." We all know what it means for the politicians. In the face of injustice, please pretend that everything is fine. It means, "don't break anything."

It is time for us to reclaim the word, "nonviolence" because it is used by politicians without any understanding of what nonviolence is. What they fail to recognize is that people are not out to break things. We are out to fix what's broken. Nonviolence is not the opposite of violence, it is the antidote. It is the cure. Nonviolence is not passivity living in fear of destruction. It is courageous action out of love for the transformation of our society.

To me, "remain nonviolent" means implementing constructive programs, as Gandhi taught us. That means working together to build and empower our communities with programs that lift people up economically, spiritually and politically. That means reinventing the job descriptions and job training for police officers so they learn to be more compassionate and work with, not against our communities. We are in this together.

In his book, "Stride Toward Freedom," Dr. King talked about agape love or unconditional love as the wellspring of nonviolence. He called it, the "insistence on community even when one seeks to break it." It is "a willingness to go to any length to restore community." That means there is no us vs. them. There is only "us" as one Beloved Community seeking to correct the unjust system of which we are all tragic victims. I take inspiration when I hear the words, "remain nonviolent." It says, remain hopeful because we will make it together. It says, be courageous because the future is what we create together. It is an invitation to all to join in implementing the solutions we need for a brighter future.

"Remain nonviolent" also means being active in seeking peace. Remember, Dr. King taught us that "peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." That does not mean that the grand jury must convict every police officer that took another life. At that point, we are too late. That is not justice, nor peace. Justice means correcting the conditions that lead a police officer to choke a citizen for selling cigarettes in the first place. It means bridging relationships in the community so police speak with their words and not their bullets.

"Remain nonviolent" means living up to the best of who we are and what we are capable of. It means mourning together when a citizen is killed and then working together for solutions. It means acknowledging anger in the community and hearing the unheard voices rather than launching tear gas at them.

On this 30th anniversary of the King holiday, let us renew our commitment to each other. Let us renew our commitment to change the unjust systems that continue to destroy our communities. Let us invite others to join us on this important journey to "remain nonviolent."

November 13, 2015

So you want to go on a hunger strike?

You're pissed off! You are so angry you could scream. You want to show your opponent that they are in the wrong and you are going to make the ultimate sacrifice. You plan to go on a hunger strike to get your opponent to change their ways, resign, stop the injustice, accept your demands or whatever you feel is not being addressed.

A hunger strike is one of the most serious nonviolent actions because you are voluntarily putting your life at stake. Have you taken the time to learn about the strategies of nonviolent direct action, how they work and how to use them for maximum effect? Hunger strikes come directly out of the the traditions of nonviolent direct action. There are strict rules and considerations.

Keep in mind, your goal is justice. Your goal is social change. Your goal is NOT to become the next #hashtag.  

First, your courage and depth of commitment to justice is incredible. You are part of a rare 1/10 of 1% people who would even consider a hunger strike. So, I will say right from the start that your movement needs you and needs your leadership. They also need you to be alive to help lead the movement.

Hunger Strikes are a Last Resort.
Mahatma Gandhi was known for using hunger strikes at key moments to maximum effect. He had very strict rules about hunger strikes, one of which was that hunger strikes are a last resort. Nonviolent direct action is about building relationships, especially with your opponent. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about how the Beloved Community is the end result of nonviolence. Why? Because nonviolence is a conversation with your opponent. It is relationship building at its core. We build relationships with our opponent because nonviolence is love in action. It is deeply rooted in the belief that we are all connected in unity. There is no us/them. There is only us and we take action out of love to dismantle unjust systems and build more just ones. The key here, as King teaches us, is to attack systems of evil, not the people within them.

As Freedom Rider Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr. said of his work in the Civil Rights Movement, they weren't trying to beat the enemy. "We had to rush to their aid." Their "opponents" had succumbed to fear, hatred and racism. They had fallen out of the Beloved Community and nonviolent action is what would bring them back in.

Nonviolent action is rooted in love and unity. That love and unity includes you, which is why a hunger strike is the last resort. You matter. Your life matters, even if the unjust system does not seem to recognize it.

But I'm So Angry! 
Yes, the pain is real. The injustice is real. You are ready to give your life. I hear the depth of pain you feel and that you cannot go on living your life as it has been. Perhaps you are a student and the veil has been lifted for you on our society. It is filled with hatred and systemic racism against people of color. The impact of 500 years of white supremacy is now in full focus. Consider for a moment that your thoughts of giving your life in service to justice might be best interpreted to mean that you should give your lifetime to justice, not just to one hunger strike.

How much could you accomplish in 50 years vs. a 50 day hunger strike?   

The Hunger Strike Must Be Carried Out to Its Stated Conclusion.
This was another rule from Gandhi. Hunger strikes are no joke. Death is a very real end result. But when does a hunger strike work and when does it fail? It fails often because those undertaking it do not understand the strategies of nonviolent direct action. 

Gandhi called nonviolent direct action the moral equivalent of war. Why? In war, we make others suffer to coerce them to do what we want. "I will make you suffer until you give up." It is nothing but pain, suffering, death and sadness. 

Nonviolence says, "I will choose suffering on behalf of the greater good. I will suffer so others will not have to." Nonviolent action chooses suffering. A hunger strike is a nonviolent action. However, we must remember that relationships are at the core of nonviolence.

A hunger strike will NOT work if you have a weak relationship or no relationship with the person or entity you are trying to change. 

A hunger strike only works because you are connected to the person or entity you are trying to change. Have you spent months or years building a relationship with the person or entity in real ways? Do they know you personally? Have you spent many hours face-to-face? Have you talked face-to-face about the injustices you experience and the solutions you seek?

If the answer to those questions is no, do not go on a hunger strike. Your chances of success are low. Imagine going on a hunger strike outside the White House to end the war in Afghanistan. Does anyone know you in the White House? Would anyone even notice you were outside? No. You'll just end up a #hashtag and our world will have lost a brave and dedicated justice-seeker who didn't do their nonviolence homework.

The depth of your relationship with your opponent will likely determine the depth of change.

The Goal of the Hunger Strike Must Be Reasonable.  
If you are demanding things that are not possible or not reasonable, you will fail. Imagine a hunger strike to end poverty around the world. Who is in charge of poverty? Who can make the change? What will the change be? If your demands are not specific and fully within the control of your opponent to enact, you will fail.

For example, the Memphis Sit-In movement was not about Civil Rights laws. It was not about equality for all Americans. It was SNCC students building the relationship with one store, in Memphis only. They started by talking with the people at the store and building a relationship. When the store was unwilling to change, the students escalated the conversation into the public realm and dramatized the injustice through sit-ins. They also chose to accept the suffering that came with disobeying the law. The received public beatings. They were arrested. But, their actions awakened the conscious of the store owner and leaders in Memphis. When the first store changed its policy, the students moved on to the next lunch counter and started the conversation over again.  

That said, there are hundreds, even thousands of powerful nonviolent actions you can take with others in your movement that build relationships to create the change you seek. They are equally, if not more powerful than your hunger strike. You just need to focus your energy on a larger strategy to create the change you seek. Good strategy takes time.

Nonviolence Has No Timeline.
Breathe. Nonviolence has no timeline. Rushing into anything is a form of violence. The unjust system will always be waiting for you. The question is, have you done the internal work of peace to create the external change you seek?

Are you acting out of fear and anger or have you found love within you that you can extend to your opponent? Do you want to hurt your opponent or are you rushing to their aid? Are your strategies peaceful or violent? Only peaceful means create peaceful ends. Make sure you are acting from a place of peace, not anger, vengeance, or retribution.

To paraphrase Eknath Easwaran, a mountain climber must intensely train their physical body to make it to the top of a mountain. You must train your inner self in love with the same intensity to reach the mountaintop of justice through nonviolence. Take the time. 

In the meantime, organize, organize, organize! And strategize, strategize, strategize! You don't have to risk your life tomorrow, so build the foundation of your success while you learn and cultivate nonviolence within yourself and others. 

The Hunger Strike Must Be Consistent with the Rest of One's Campaign   
What is the larger campaign you are part of in your community? What is the constructive effort that will take the place of the injustice you are trying to dismantle? Who else supports you and how will a hunger strike take your movement closer to the justice you seek? 

If you don't have a clear movement with clear reasonable demands; if you don't have a larger strategy and a large supportive community around the movement, do not go on a hunger strike.  

We Have Nothing To Lose But Our Chains
 The most important thing you have to dismantle injustice in our world is your life. The longer life you have, the more injustice you can defeat. You are literally being born-again into a lifetime of working for peace and justice. Your courage is needed. Your living energy is needed to build a community of justice. I firmly believe that the more you learn about nonviolent strategy, the more you will see that a hunger strike is not necessary to achieve the goals you seek.

What should you consider instead? Start with these 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp. His book "From Dictatorship to Democracy" was the nonviolent action blueprint that led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in the Otpor! movement in Serbia as well as many other social movements.

And if you want to talk to me directly, I am happy to talk more or come to your campus. Call me: 404-386-(eight five)45.

More articles about Hunger Strikes:
Metta Center for Nonviolence  
Waging Nonviolence: "Rules for (hunger-striking) Radicals

Learn more about Nonviolence:
Self-Study through Metta Center for Nonviolence
US Institute of Peace: "Civil Resistance and the Dynamics of Nonviolent Movements"
Coursera: From Freedom Rides to Ferguson: Narratives of Nonviolence in the American Civil Rights Movement

October 5, 2015

How To Prevent A School Shooter

Imagine you are an 8-year old student in elementary school. Your teacher tells you, "Today, we are having a lockdown drill." She talks in cryptic language explaining that if something bad happens at school, she wants everyone to be safe. You practice hiding in the closet with all of the other students and you sit "criss-cross applesauce" while the teacher bars the door. Or maybe you have a special cabinet to hide in. One of my friends told me how proud her daughter was about her hiding space in a cabinet for lockdown. This scenario plays out every day in our schools.

But what are we really teaching our community? We are teaching parents, teachers, and students to live in constant fear for their lives because "the shooter" is coming. Not since the Cold War have we surrounded our children in such an environment of reactive fear where they literally hide in the closet. "Duck and cover" used to be the rallying cry from Bert the Turtle for students to dive under their desks because Russia could drop an atomic bomb on the United States any minute.

School shootings are serious and complex issues. There is no single key that can unlock a solution for our communities. (Can we collectively be done with "silver bullets" please?) As a founder of a K-12 school myself and a consultant in Nonviolence Leadership, I have some perspectives that could be helpful as schools and communities wrestle with how to address the potential threat of violence.

Build a Strong Community Around Caring and Love
Let's back up, long before a shooter shows up anywhere, and ask, how is our community caring for each other? How are we taking time to validate the inherent worth and dignity of every person in our learning community? So often, we get caught up in our day-to-day jobs as teachers, parents and administrators that we forget about how important relationships are to our community. Strong communities are built upon trust, caring and love. These interpersonal relationships are your community safety net when issues come up and they take significant time and attention. It's much like fundraising in the nonprofit world. The wisdom of fundraising says, "If you are going to ask for money one month each year, you must spend the other 11 months building relationships." The same thing is true for community building. Invest time every day in building strong, caring relationships that will support the community in times of crisis. This strategy is not about "shooter management." It is about "shooter prevention" long before anyone picks up a gun.

Open Communication Lines
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that "A riot is the language of the unheard." I would say the same thing in this context, that school shootings are the language of the unheard. Many times, school shooters are also students. So let us be intentional that our schools can be "communities that hear." Consider how your school community can open lines of communication. Let's allow students to talk and allow them to feel.  Let's allow students to discuss what's going on in our world without having to have a test, a homework assignment, a grade or a learning outcome.  You can't measure caring with a rubrik and you won't test your way to a safer school. We spend weeks preparing every student to take standardized tests. Shouldn't we give the same attention to validating the humanity and feelings of each student? Even better, can we focus our time on building a loving community INSTEAD of testing? How many shootings could we prevent if students in despair felt their school was a place of caring rather than cold indifference? It is very difficult to validate the feelings of students when our predominant message is "don't talk" and our schedule shuffles us from room to room every 50 minutes. Where is the time for a student-in-need to talk, to feel, to grieve, to heal, or to feel support from their peers and community?  If we do not make time for this important work, we will continue to hear the tragic "language of the unheard."

Arm Teachers with Empathy, Not Guns
Two years ago, Antoinette Tuff stopped a school shooter who carried an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition in my home town of Decatur, Georgia. She didn't use a gun. She used much more powerful weapons: listening, empathy and love. No one was hurt. No one was killed, not even the perpetrator.  She is a living example of the power of love, empathy and nonviolence.

What if we trained every teacher in empathic communication or Nonviolent Communication (NVC)? What if instead of lockdown drills, we had empathy drills? Instead of teaching students to hide in a closet, what if we taught our students and teachers to reach out to each other, every day, and help each other when people are sad or hurting? What if instead of living in reactive fear of death, that we engaged in the pro-active, life-affirming love of building a caring community? A school shooter may never happen, but community building can most certainly happen every day.

The issues of school shootings are as complex as the solutions. Building a loving, caring community is an important solution that can catch students in despair and bring them back into the community long before they decide to pick up a gun. However, the question remains for every community in America:

Will we literally hide in the closet in reactive fear of the unknown or will we create courageous communities of love that listen and value the inherent worth of every person? 

Antoinette Tuff was a single person who stopped a tragedy with love. Imagine a whole school of people like Antoinette. We would never hide in the closet again.

Dave Soleil, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a founder of the K-12 Sudbury School of Atlanta, a consultant in Nonviolence Leadership and the former Chair of the Leadership Education group for the International Leadership Association. Follow him on Twitter @davesoleil.

September 6, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. Lived on the Moon

James McGregor Burns is a giant in the field of leadership studies.  His seminal work called, "Leadership" is a masterpiece.  Reading it felt like watching someone take apart a Ferrari piece-by-piece and put it back together from memory.  Stunning work.  However, I have been continually frustrated by the field of leadership studies.  I had the opportunity at a conference to ask James McGregor Burns the question at the root of my frustration.  "If we are the rocket scientists of leadership, why aren't we sending more people to the moon?"  

If we understand leadership so well, shouldn't it be easier for us to identify and launch strong leaders into prominence?  Shouldn't it be easier for us to train and support existing leaders?  Shouldn't positive change in our society accelerate when we use this important knowledge for the greater good?  Unfortunately, he had little to say.

Here's the crux of the issue.  There are two bodies of leadership.  There is observational leadership and aspirational leadership.  Using our rocket scientist analogy, it is the difference between observing the moon from earth and trying to live on the moon.  They are two completely different experiences.  They also can inform each other in helpful ways when we acknowledge the difference.

Observational study of the moon looks at the amount of light and darkness and why it is light or dark.  It looks at the atmosphere and what gasses are present, if any.  It looks at its orbit pattern around the earth.  It documents those who have tried to go to the moon in the past.  It is a safe and academic exploration.  Personal risk is low.  It examines past experiences and collective data.  It is focused on history rather than on the future.  It asks "what has been in the past?"

In contrast, aspirational work is for astronauts.  It designs the breathing apparatus to survive on the moon.  It creates the rockets to escape the gravitational pull of the earth.  It builds habitats that can withstand the hot or cold temperatures observed with the phases of light and dark.  It creates communication systems that can get messages, data and supplies back and forth from earth.  It requires courage and personal risk to explore this uncharted territory.  It is unsafe and unknown.  It is active experimentation which then creates new experiences and new data.  It is future focused.  It asks "what is" and "what could be?"

We must examine our work in nonviolence, leadership and social change through both of these lenses.  We need both the observational and aspirational perspectives.  We must also be intentional to distinguish the two and not conflate or confuse them.  The predominant paradigm is to teach from an observational perspective regardless of the audience or end goal.  Remember, observational perspectives are safe and low-risk.  We can peer-review them.  We can wax philosophically for years without consequence.  However, if we want to send people to the moon, we must shift our focus to aspirational work.  

For example, Martin Luther King Jr. was an aspirational leader.  A majestic planet in his own right, many scholars observe him and his work.  He left much writing and resources related to nonviolence.  The Six Principles of Nonviolence and the Six Steps of Nonviolence are tremendous contributions to humanity.  What we must recognize is that his writing and teaching came from an aspirational perspective.  King lived on the moon, to use our analogy.  It was active experimentation in an unsafe and unknown environment.

The work of aspiration is always unfinished.  Gandhi understood this well.  He famously writes about his "experiments in truth."  No matter how much observational knowledge we have, it is imperative to document, reflect upon and refine the work of the aspirational practitioner.  That means building upon the work of Gandhi and King and not simply accepting it as observational written truth.  Nonviolence was not intended to be an observational textbook or chapter in a history book.  It is a living tradition to transform an unjust present into a more just future.

Nonviolence, at its root, is an aspirational model.  It is intended for astronauts "going boldly where no person has gone before."  Aspirational leadership requires the active reflection and meaning-making from its practitioners.  As I have said before, the mindset of leadership is being ready to learn.  Leadership thrives where there are no clear answers.  Every step a person takes toward social transformation is a step that no one has taken before for that group, that time, and that place.  Therefore, we must distinguish in our explorations and learning if we are using an observational framework or an aspirational framework and for what purpose.  It makes no sense to teach someone how to use a breathing apparatus if they will never go into space.  It is also folly to send a person into space with no knowledge, skills or tools for survival.

This distinction can help all of us become more effective in our work.  The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.  Let's go into space and see how far it bends!   

August 2, 2015

In Pursuit of the Beloved Community

I received some feedback from my last article, "Open Letter to the Guy with the Confederate Flag." One person implied that I am tone-deaf to the racist symbol that is the Confederate flag. So, let me tell you a story.  

When Rev. Jim Lawson was on a march during the Civil Rights Movement. One bystander was yelling racial epithets and spit square in his face. He stopped and asked the man if he had a handkerchief. The man, surprised, gave him one. After cleaning his face, Rev. Lawson saw that the man wore a motorcycle riding jacket. Rev. Lawson was also a motorcycle enthusiast and struck up a conversation. They talked about what kinds of bikes they rode and where they like to ride. By the end of the conversation, the man apologized to Rev. Lawson for spitting in his face. Rev. Lawson made a human connection with the man who spit in his face. This is the power of Nonviolence in action.

In my work in Nonviolence, I have a workshop on how to create the Beloved Community in concrete ways. King told us "the aftermath of Nonviolence is creation of the Beloved Community." I am going to be bold here and clarify. The Beloved Community is not just the end goal. It is the beginning, middle and end. If we want to end with the Beloved Community, we have to show up with the Beloved Community. That means valuing every person's worth and dignity, including and especially your opponent, from the beginning. Yes, that includes the police who have terrorized our communities. That includes the racist confederate-flag waving groups. That includes the politicians who continue to vote against progress.

That does NOT mean that we accept or excuse racism, abuse and injustice. Absolutely not. The Metta Center for Nonviolence has a very clear definition of the means of Nonviolence. It is persuasion not coercion. The goal is cooperation, not domination. As Dr. Bernard Lafayette describes, "the goal of Nonviolence is not to win over your opponent. The goal is to win them over to your side." We must awaken their conscience. As he described his experience in the Civil Rights Movement, he said of the racist white community, "we had to rush to their aid."

But can we really create the Beloved Community? Do we have the collective courage? Do we have the strength to talk with Confederate flag wavers as people? Do we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people or only those who agree with us?

King said of agape love, "it is the insistence on community, even when one seeks to break it." Nonviolence is not about one letter or one conversation. It's about one hundred thousand letters and conversations that try to convince others that a community without hate and division is what we all want. That might also mean starting conversations that are not about the flag. Rev. Lawson didn't scream at his assailant about racism. He also didn't scream at him about togetherness. He talked to him about motorcycles.

Many activists see social change as a tennis game in which there is a net between them and their opponent which will never be crossed. They hit something at us and we respond. Back and forth, back and forth. The flag is racist. No, the flag is about heritage. Back and forth. Back and forth. Where is the progress? Where is the attempt for mutual understanding? Where is the attempt for reconciliation? There is none. We scream at them. They scream at us.

Social change with Nonviolence is not a tennis game. It is a complex chess match, deep in strategy and every piece you capture becomes active on your side of the board.

How would you win someone over to your side? Think about the letter would you write to those who wave the Confederate flag? What conversation would you have?

The Southern Poverty Law Center Hatewatch tells us there have been 132 pro-Confederate flag rallies since the Charleston massacre. That is 132 rallies in 45 days.  They are fully aware of the impact of their symbol. Actually, they just spit in your face. How will you respond?  

July 29, 2015

Open Letter to the Guy with the Confederate Flag

On the road to North Carolina, I saw many confederate flags.  Hundreds maybe.  They were attached to pick-up trucks and motorcycles, on beach towels and bed comforters, on t-shirts and do-rags and next to graves in cemeteries.  What I saw was blatant racism on parade.  I dismissed them all, except one.  Except you.

You were marching on the corner of a gas station in Waynesville, North Carolina.  You were alone and you carried a large confederate flag with the words on it, "Heritage, Not Hate."  I was driving by with my family on our way for a vacation together in the mountains.

You were different.  You had the courage to stand on the corner, by yourself, waving a flag with the words, "Not Hate."  I've had a few conversations with passionate confederate flag supporters.  You think the massacre in Charleston was tragic.  You think Dylan Roof was insane and he doesn't deserve to wave the confederate flag, the flag of your heritage.  You think that most Americans don't get it that brothers fought brothers in the Civil War.  Some towns sent every man and boy off to war and no one came home.  The tragedy of the Civil War runs deep in the South.

But now you see the confederate flags coming down.  You feel like your heritage is getting buried underneath a whole bunch of political correctness.  You also want the government out of your business, especially when it tries to tell you what to do with your flag or any other part of your life.  Enough is enough.

Have I missed anything?  These things came up regularly in my conversations with others.  If I may ask, would you be willing to put down the flag for a minute so we can talk?  The confederate flag screams loudly in our culture and I want us to have a real conversation instead of a shouting match.

I teach leadership and nonviolence for a living.  It is rare for me to find someone willing to stand alone on a street corner in their home town for a cause.  America needs your courage right now.

Your heritage will be well secured in American history books.  It is already there.  But right now, America isn't fighting for its history.  America is fighting for its future.  We are struggling for a future without hate and division.  Right now, we need you to stand up to hate in your community.  It is that same hate that murdered nine innocent African-Americans in Charleston.  It is that same hate that comes out when, in Douglasville, Georgia, trucks with confederate flags show up at the birthday party of an African-American child and intimidate his family with guns and death threats.

I know you dislike these unspeakable acts of violence.  Are you willing to say enough is enough?  Are you willing to march with a flag for peace?  Do you have the courage to stand, not on a street corner, but square in the way of those who commit these acts of violence in your town?  You know who they are.  They are the ones who said they wouldn't march with you and your "Not Hate" flag.  They are the ones who laughed at you.  They are the ones who said you were crazy, even though they have three confederate flags flying off the back of their truck.

One of the things Nonviolence teaches us, and that I teach others, is that no one is beyond the reach of the human heart.  We are all in this together.  Christ spoke about this in his teachings, "love thy neighbor as thyself."  This is the same love Martin Luther King talked about called agape (ah-GAH-peh) love; "the insistence on community, even when one seeks to break it."

I offer to you that nothing would be more courageous, nothing would be more honorable, and nothing would be more effective in ending the hate than you taking a stand in your community against it.  Bring people together to make a plan of action.  Imagine the heritage you will create today for future generations.  In the peaceful world of your grandchildren, they will look back and proudly say it all started when you took a stand for peace and said "enough is enough."

Dave Soleil is a nonviolence leadership consultant and a founder of the K-12 Sudbury School of Atlanta.  He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.  He can be reached at:  

June 20, 2015

#Charleston. Another tragedy. What should we do?

Mother Emanuel
In Charleston, SC nine African-Americans in a prayer group were massacred by a white racist.  Once again, there is a resounding question in America, "what do we do?"  This was the same question after the killings of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many, many others.  This was the same question after the Sandy Hook massacre.  John Stewart characterized America yesterday saying, "We still won't do jack shit."  He is tragically accurate.

But why?  Why is America so flummoxed every time a tragedy happens among Americans?  Let's begin with 9-11.  Attacks from abroad allow us the opportunity to use our number one solution for everything... violence.  We have the world's most robust military.  Attack us and we will unleash billions of dollars of bombs and drones and missiles and planes and guns and soldiers upon other countries that may or may not have been involved in the attack.  It's easy and cathartic and far away.  Just like the Toby Keith song, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, says, "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way."

Yet, when a white American racist slaughters nine African-Americans in a church or when the police murder citizens on the street, we talk about "bad apples."  We talk about mental illness.  We talk about police body cameras and we post MLK quotes on Facebook and Twitter.  We fight over the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.  Authorities tell people to "be calm" and not to burn down the city.  Yet, more violence happens and authorities try to squash the violence with more violence and the cycle continues.  

To paraphrase Maslow, if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.             

This is why America has no idea what to do when social problems arise in our country.  The hammer of violence is the only tool in America's toolbox.  So, when the problem IS violence, America is dumbfounded.  We not only are confused about what to do but we don't recognize where the problem stemmed from.  We are victims of our own self-perpetuating, violent, one-solution-fits-all philosophy. 

What do we do about police violence?  We don't know because violence is our only tool.  What do we do about the Charleston massacre?  We don't know because we can't bomb South Carolina.  Where do we direct our water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets?  Who should our drones kill?  Fighting violence with violence is absurd. 

So we make excuses about these tragedies because it's far easier than admitting that our toolbox is empty.  "This was an isolated incident."  "How can anyone possibly avoid this?  When a man is sick and crazy, there's nothing that can be done."  

So, what should we do?  The first thing is to fill our toolbox with the many and multi-faceted tools  of Nonviolence and throw away the rusty, bloody hammer of violence that has been destroying our communities for centuries.  And when I say, Nonviolence, I am reclaiming that word from the politicians, officials and media who just want people to sit down, be quiet, and maintain the status quo.  That is not, and never has been, Nonviolence.  

Nonviolence is an active, creative and strong force for social change.  It is not weak, nor passive.  It challenges injustice.  It organizes, empowers and forges the just world we seek.  Nonviolence teaches us that peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice.  It does not inflict suffering on others, it voluntarily accepts suffering in order to awaken the consciences of all people.   
This is why I teach Nonviolence Leadership.  If Nonviolence is the tools for change, leadership is learning to use those tools effectively.  The first part of leadership is just showing up.  As an example, having attended #BlackLivesMatter rallies and town hall meetings on community policing, the white community in Atlanta has been painfully, noticeably and continually absent.  

Think about it.  When an African-American community member is gunned down by police and a demonstration is held to affirm that #BlackLivesMatter and the white community does not show up but then are loudly vocal on social media that #AllLivesMatter, what message does that send?    

If we want change in our communities, we cannot simply post on Facebook that #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter or Gandhi quotes about "being the change" or MLK quotes about "hate doesn't drive out hate."  The change we seek will not happen on Facebook and Twitter.  In the words of Gil Scott Heron, "the revolution will not be televised."  Everyone needs to show up.  In person.  And often.  

To use our tool analogy, if your friend calls you because their house needs an emergency repair, will posting Bob Villa quotes on Facebook fix the house?  No, that's ridiculous.  The way to fix your friend's house is you show up with your toolbox, that has the right tools, and you work and you sweat and you rip out what broke and you put in new frameworks and sand and paint and then you and your friend look at what a beautiful thing you fixed together.    

We must learn about all the tools of Nonviolence.  They are many and versatile.  I try to write about many of them.  They can build the world we seek.  Leadership is what teaches us how to use those tools most effectively.  

The solutions we seek for our communities are within reach, but we are waiting for you.  

February 27, 2015

How We Teach Violence to Children

As thoughtful, caring parents, we would never want to teach our kids that violence is the answer to any or every problem.  We want our children to learn to get along with others, share, be kind, say "excuse me" and try their best at an empathetic "I'm sorry."

I thought I was attuned to the violence that surrounds us in American culture.  However, a trip to Target with my kids yesterday was shocking.  We stepped into the toy aisles.  Here is a quick rundown of the toys and action figures, in order...

  • Batman
  • Power Rangers
  • Star Wars
  • Elite Force - modern Army/military toys
  • Professional Wrestling
Next aisle:
  • More Power Rangers
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Spider-Man
  • Super Hero Smashers
  • Marvel Comics Characters - Hulk, Avengers, Captain America, etc.
  • Transformers
End cap:
  • Horror Series - Michael Meyers action figure from Halloween movies and Eric Draven from the Crow
  • Game of Thrones
  • Magic
  • HALO
Next Aisle:
  • Super Hero Adventures - these are tiny cute versions of Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman and Hulk for younger kids.
Notice a pattern here?  Every toy, without exception, uses violence and weapons to cause pain and/or death as their solution to problems.  Then, with the Horror Series, we are supposed to play Serial Killer?!?

What message does this send our children?  Violence is heroic.  Violence is the solution to all problems.  Violence is a super power.  

We are aghast and outraged when we see ISIS beheading a person on the nightly news, yet our children play out the same gruesome scenarios with the toys we get them for their birthday, the movies we take them to see, the comic books we buy for them, the shows they watch on TV, and the video games we buy for them.  

What is a solution for this?  Do I want a Selma action figure series at Target?  Perhaps a Gandhi bobblehead?  (Yes, that one exists...)  

While that would be nice, the solution that I seek is to empower parents to take a stand for your values.  Take a stand for peace-making.  Take a stand for selfless service to others, out of compassion and empathy.  Your children are looking to you to define how to interact with the world.  Talk with them about your values, especially at Target, and especially in the toy aisle.  How do you solve problems?  Connect it to your faith or your belief system.  What does it mean to you to be a Christian?  A Muslim?  A Unitarian Universalist?  A Humanitarian?  Who are the super heroes in your life and why?        

Suddenly, those plastic "super heroes" and weapons seem pretty silly and your family's connections, values and relationships have grown much deeper.  Stand strong.  Put peace into their hands.  Leave the violence on the shelf.  

January 29, 2015

The Next Step Beyond Service

Nonviolence teaches us to look beyond problems to their root.  What are the causes of these problems?  For example, when we see hunger in our community, the cause is not that someone forgot to eat!  There are unjust systems that we have collectively built that marginalize and dehumanize people.  These systems have created the conditions that make it extraordinarily difficult for some members of the community to meet their basic needs.

It is our responsibility then, not only to feed those who are hungry, but also to correct the systems that create the conditions for hunger and food insecurity in the first place.

This is what I mean by "the next step beyond service."  It means taking service to others and adding deep strategy to address root causes.  This is the essence of Constructive Program.

The classic example of Constructive Program was Gandhi's efforts to teach people how to spin cotton into cloth to make fabric and clothing.  At the time, the British Empire took the cotton and raw materials from India, sent it to England, made it into cloth and then sold it back to the Indian people at a much higher price.  Gandhi's Constructive Program looked at this exploitation at its roots.  This was not just about high priced clothing.  This was about Indian independence from the British.  It was about economic independence.  It was about moral and spiritual independence.

The spinning wheel built local economies.  It empowered the Indian people, not only with the structural means to make cloth, but with the moral and spiritual vision of independence.  As his message spread, it had a major impact to free the nation from British rule.

If Gandhi had simply tried to provide cheaper cloth, that might have meant opening second-hand markets for clothing.  Maybe there would have been an exchange system from those who had excess cloth to those with less.  It would have created some jobs and some solutions, but the root of the problem would have remained... subjugation to the British Empire.

Constructive Program can be extraordinarily powerful.  The key is taking the mindset of service and love for others and adding in strategy that addresses the root of the problem.  

December 17, 2014

The #BlackLivesMatter Movement and a New Paradigm for Schools

In the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, protests are happening all over the country.  Everyone is looking for solutions and the conversation inevitably turns to education.  Recently, Reverend Alex Gee took a listening tour through high schools in Wisconsin to "find the cultural and academic pulse of young black males."  Here is one thing Rev. Gee found:

"The young men stated that too many teachers and administrators underestimate their ability, worth and potential.  They mentioned feeling unwelcome and expendable."

The conclusion that we hear in the media often is that we need better teachers, more funding, accountability and a raft of stricter regulations.  However, these will not solve the problem and many freedom movements throughout history have known this.  In fact, many freedom movements have thrown out the "Western" system of schooling and re-invented education.  From Mississippi Freedom Summer to Gandhi in India to Paulo Freire in Brazil and more, all re-invented education.  Why?  

Under oppressive governments, it became clear to each of them that an education system implemented by the government would only serve to support the needs of the government.  The American system of education is no different.  Our system is based upon obedience and conformity.  If you do what you are told, you are rewarded.  If you do not do what you are told, you are punished.  Wear uniforms, walk in straight lines, don't talk, raise your hand, compete against your classmates to see who can be most obedient to the teacher, get a pass to use the bathroom, get good grades.  This is not a system that encourages independent thinking or critical reasoning.  It is not a system that develops the individual.  It is a system designed to oppress and break the individual.  It is a system that conquerers have used for centuries to homogenize a population.

Among many examples, the United States used it in establishing Native American boarding schools in the late 1800's.  U.S. Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first Indian boarding school called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.  In 1892, he described his philosophy in a speech, saying:

“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one.  I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead.  Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”          
What were the horrible, oppressive methods of this school designed to kill the Native American culture?  Wear uniforms, walk in straight lines, don't talk, raise your hand, compete against your classmates to see who can be most obedient to the teacher, get a pass to use the bathroom, get good grades.  Add to that, students were only allowed to speak English, just the same as when California banned bi-lingual education in 1998.  Or when Russia banned the Crimean language in schools after invading Crimea in 2014.

So, when young African-American males say that schools underestimate their worth and they feel expendable, that is the result of a "schooling" system designed to dehumanize the individual in favor of obedience to authority.  The solution is not better teachers.  The solution is a different system.  We need a system that values and develops each individual and says YES! to who they are, their ideas and their passions.  We can say YES! to their individuality, their decisions, their successes and mistakes.  We can say YES! to the content of their character knowing that they are on a path to fulfilling their own dreams and desires.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. told us:

"I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be."

Mississippi Freedom Schools in 1964 did not have grades, uniforms or tests.  It was a free-form, multi-age learning experience where people learned to question and think critically.  According to a memo to Freedom School teachers:

"The purpose of the Freedom schools is to provide an educational experience for students which will make it possible for them to challenge the myths of our society, to perceive more clearly its realities, and to find alternatives, and ultimately, new directions for action." 

The goal was valuing and empowering each individual, not breaking them.  Freedom Schools wanted students to become active, engaged citizens.  They knew that the traditional "Western" school system was oppressive.  Why fight to maintain it?  They started over.

Gandhi started over too.  He founded the Nai Talim or "New Education" system in India.  He dumped the British system of education in favor of empowering schools in the native language that recognized each individual as "mind, body and spirit."  He said in 1917, "All education must aim at building character."  Gandhi wanted schools that validated the individual spirit, embraced local culture and valued the efforts of young people to benefit their community.

In Brazil in the 1950's Paulo Freire launched adult literacy programs leading him to write the landmark book, "Pedagogy of the Oppressed."  Literacy was a requirement for presidential voting in Brazil, so the illiterate poor had no political influence until Freire came along.  He called "Western" education the "Banking Concept of Education."

“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.  Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry.  The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence.”

Instead, he suggests:

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

He says teachers and students should be in an egalitarian, respectful relationship where students have voice rather than being coerced into a "culture of silence."  A culture of silence only perpetuates the submissiveness of the oppressed.  Instead, Freire argued, knowledge should be co-constructed without the authoritarian power structures of traditional education.  This evolution of the classroom begins by valuing and giving voice to the life experience of the students before they even enter the classroom.

This is just a sample of how freedom movements have cast off the traditional system of schooling and re-invented education.  Today, America is going through another social upheaval.  Our system of policing is broken.  We need to start over and re-imagine it.  It is the same with education.  We need to start-over and re-imagine it.  Freedom struggles from around the world are speaking loudly to us now about education and we should listen.  They don't teach these lessons in school. 

December 6, 2014

The Value of Spinning

One thing I value about Gandhi's leadership in the struggle for India's independence was his Constructive Program of spinning.  Not only did it create the economic and spiritual independence sought by the Indian people, it gave everyone something productive to do when no one knew what to do.

When Gandhi was uncertain of what to do next in the movement, he would spin cotton.  It was an effort that allowed him and others time to think and strategize while continuing to work for independence.  Sometimes he would think for weeks or months on end.  Nonviolence has no timeline.  
Nonviolence is often seen ONLY as civil disobedience.  While Satyagraha is visible and confrontational, Constructive Program builds the just and peaceful world that does not yet exist.

So, find your Constructive Program.  Take time to spin.  There is no hurry.  You are building the solutions you seek.    

November 29, 2014

Free Nonviolence Training

As a service to to all of the #BlackLivesMatter groups, I am offering free 90 minute Skype or Facetime trainings in the philosophy and methodology of Nonviolence.  Feel free to forward this invitation to those who might be interested.  See the description below and email me at: to set up a time.

Learn the power of Nonviolence.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is here and it is strong.  We are angry about Mike Brown and police brutality.  We want to do something but what?  What is going to be effective in creating real change in our communities?  What is going to empower people and challenge the status quo without causing a civil war?

I would like to introduce you to Nonviolence or what Gandhi called, "the greatest force at the disposal of mankind."  Gandhi defeated the British Empire with it and never fired a shot.  Martin Luther King studied Gandhi's techniques and as King said of the Civil Rights movement, "we expressed anger under discipline for maximum effect."      

Today, there are tremendous misconceptions about Nonviolence.  It does not mean "Sit down and be quiet."  It also does not mean march in the streets and sing "We Shall Overcome" and everything will work itself out.  These are cartoon versions of Nonviolence that are rampant in American schools and culture.

Nonviolence is strong, courageous, strategic action with a very specific philosophy and methodology.  It has been used with great effectiveness in overthrowing the most brutal dictatorships and regimes.  It will work in our communities but it requires training and planning.

Please contact me to set up a free online training session for your group.  Email me at:  I offer this as a service to our communities.  There is no catch.  There is no obligation.

As King said, "The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice."  It bends with Nonviolence.  Contact me and let's work together to create a more just world.    

Here is my bio:

Dave Soleil has over twenty years experience developing the leadership skills of thousands of college and high school students, MBAs, and nonprofit and corporate clients.  He is passionate about teaching the philosophy and methodology of nonviolence for transformational social change.  Gandhi called it "the greatest force at the disposal of mankind."

Dave is the former Chair of the Leadership Education group for the International Leadership Association.  He also was the Associate Director of the Center for Global Leadership and Team Development in the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. Dave has worked as a consultant for many universities and nonprofits including the Interfaith Youth Core, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Agnes Scott College, the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, the Foundation for Teaching Economics and more.

Dave is also a founder and staff member at the Sudbury School of Atlanta, a K-12 school dedicated to empowering students.

Dave received his Masters degree in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University and holds a certificate from Emory University in the Nonviolence philosophy and methodology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

November 16, 2014

Blueprint for a Nonviolence School

Can we design a school based on nonviolence?  Can we find inspiration from the lineage of nonviolence activists and change agents?  Can we determine a model that supports what the Metta Center for Nonviolence calls, a New Story?

Let's begin with Myles Horton:

I think if I had to put a finger on what I consider a good education, a good radical education, it wouldn't be anything about methods or techniques.  It would be loving people first."
-from the book, "We Make the Road by Walking"

1.  Respect the inherent worth and dignity of every individual 
Each person, regardless of age, is a complete human being with strengths, abilities, interests, experiences and passions.  They are not a vessel to be filled, nor a voice to to be silenced.  The nonviolence school would be egalitarian and multi-age.  We would create, co-create and recreate knowledge together and as individuals.  We would seek to empower the intrinsic motivations of each person and eliminate externally imposed measures that serve only to support obedience and conformity.  We would ask, "what are you interested in?"  "What are you passionate about?"  Then, we would empower each person to discover and fulfill their swadharma.          

2.  Every Person has Voice and Choice
Voice and Choice are an extension of respect for the individual.  Each person, regardless of age, would have voice to express their interests, passions and experiences.  They would also have the power (choice) to pursue those interests with others or by themselves.  Agency is another term that applies here.

3.  Encouraging the development of mind, body and spirit 
"Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony." - Gandhi  The compliment to mind, body and spirit are actions of word, thought and deed.  These all are interwoven and would be encouraged.     

4.  Nonviolent communication (NVC) and restorative justice
The practice of NVC and restorative justice would be a framework for communication and conflict resolution.  There would be no principal's office or retributive justice.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "an insistence on community, even when one seeks to break it."  When issues in our community separate us, we work to bring our community back together rather than ostracize or punish people in our community.    

5.  Embodying service
"I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be." - Martin Luther King, Jr.  Service would be a value and a practice.           

6.  Encouraging the lifelong study and practice of nonviolence
This would likely encompass spiritual practice, social action in both constructive and obstructive programs, teaching others about nonviolence, and other explorations of the practice, science, philosophy and methodology of nonviolence.

There is a growing trend of schools similar to this, particularly emphasizing numbers 1 and 2.  Democratic schools, free schools, unschools, Sudbury schools, and other similarly inspired programs follow numbers 1 and 2.  The rest you can modify to fit the needs of your community.  This could be a model for after-school programs, "Sunday schools" or other schools seeking to encourage the spiritual journey of young people. tutoring programs, music schools and more.

I helped start a school similar to this and offer this as a blueprint for others who wish to make a nonviolence school their constructive program.  The results are incredibly empowering, creative and fulfilling.  Reinventing education in this way is also the subject of a book I am writing under the working title, "The Content of their Character."  

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about opening a nonviolence school.  It is possible.  You can do this!  In the words of Peter Block, "the future appears as we gather."