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.