Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Full ‘False Dichotomy Alert’: Aggression or Apathy?

Well, we are asked upon the so-called national discourse around injustice someplace that Washington has deemed important to our national interest, do we want to bomb somebody or just do nothing?

Our entire mission in the field of Nonviolence Studies, Conflict Resolution, Peace and Justice Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies (or whatever permutation of alternative constructive conflict management you like) is to suggest, research, develop and call for the third path, assertion.

Here’s the image from my nonviolence training. You are standing in front of the group and you whip out your laser pointer. You point it pointedly toward the floor and make it visible to all, sweeping in a path in front of you. You say, “You are the aggrieved party; you are civil society in motion. On this side of the line, I am the oppressor. The difference between assertion and aggression is quite thin but quite bright and you need to get right up to that line if you want to be effective.

"Hang back and the oppressor can ignore you. Cross it and he now has his excuse to crush you by any means necessary and his means are very mean indeed. But when you are right up to that line, stepping back a bit if you sense you are over it into aggression, coming right back to it after any seeming defeat, you will win. That is assertion and that is the winning modality.”

The image of Montgomery black citizens walking miles to work every day for a year was assertion at its best. They won. One elderly woman told Dr. King, “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” Even Montgomery whites got it eventually, and whites across the country got it almost right away.

I watched the same with tribespeople struggling to regain their treaty rights in northern Wisconsin. They were out long hours, far past midnight as temperatures plunged, snow still in the woods, night after night, for three springs in a row (1989-1991). They were abused, but no one could humiliate them. The more racist the language and more violent the opposition to them, the more they persisted with great dignity and grace and the more the public polls switched to support them. They never reacted with hatred and violence to hatred and violence and they won enormous respect. They were right on that thin bright line, never once backing down when hundreds of screaming redneck racists surrounded small handfuls of them. The same ones would come back out the next night. I’ve never witnessed stronger nonviolence, better image creation, and a more swift change in public opinion as a direct result.

Creating an image of violent opposition, however justified, is maladaptive.

Creating an image of slinking, cowering, pusillanimous retreat is maladaptive.

Creating and maintaining an image of courageous assertion is most adaptive. It works and those who understand the vectors of image and recruitment will adapt and win.


Terri said...

It seems that Washington has not progressed past 1991 in this regard. Recalling Clinton's claim that we had only two choices in Kosovo, ignore or bomb when there was already a nonviolent movement underway begging for support. Instead of fostering that movement, we killed countless innocents, poisoned the environment and destabilized the economy. The repercussions of this wrong choice will be with the people there for generations as they suffer the effects of American toxic waste dropped in the form of depleted uranium and other poisons.

Thanks for the post.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Great example. Thank YOU. And it took nonviolence to rescue everyone, of course. Amazing how we try violence for centuries with countless costs to people and the Earth, use nonviolence and it succeeds, and then in the next conflict we revert to what we know intuitively 'works.' Sigh...