Friday, January 01, 2010

Nonviolence and image

At the teacher orientation at the college where I started teaching, Northland College in Wisconsin, I asked one of the psychologists if he might be willing to come talk to my nonviolence class sometime about the role of psychology in nonviolence. He looked at me blankly, asking, "What does psychology have to do with nonviolence?"

I looked quizzically back and said, "Well, without psychology we have no chance for nonviolence to work at all." That is not quite true, but close.

If someone is believing you hate him and you will use any tactics to hurt or destroy him, he will have all the permission and in fact prompting to use brutal tactics either in response or preemptively to stop you.

If someone believes you respect his personhood and only disagree about issues, he is at least inclined to let you live another day to lodge another fruitless protest. Fear is the precursor to most violence but fear is diminished bilaterally by unilateral refrain from violence. That is the beginning of the power of nonviolence. It is simply psychologically adaptive to lower levels of fear if you'd like to live to make the other strategies of nonviolence work.

May 2010 be the Year of Nonviolent Success
in Palestine
in Afghanistan
in the USA


Terri said...

Nice start to the New Decade.

I think that key to fear management as you're describing it is for activists to learn to harness anger and indignation in healthy ways. In this area psychology often fails us. There has been a trend that labels anger as a negative force to be controlled and repressed. But for the activist anger is the engine of action. To me, it's important to always focus anger at systems and/or institutions and avoid aiming it at any one individual or group. This online book, Psychology for Peace Activists,, has some interesting commentary to add to the subject.

Going way back to the ancient psychology of the Buddha in the opening lines of the Dhammapada we find this insight,
1. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.
2. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.
5. For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.

Don't enter a conflict with hatred or negative judgment already established in your mind. Your prejudice will reveal itself in subtle but clear ways to your opponent. Just look what happened to Al Gore for simple rolling his eyes during a debate. We all knew what he was saying in that instant about the intelligence of his opponent (and I dare say we were all in agreement with his assessment) but his failure cost us so much.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Nicely said. I admit to my anger when I think about insipid Democrats like Gore not being able to roll his eyes at truly bizarre and blatantly ignorant statements made by the likes of Bush--because, I agree, it cost him and everyone dearly--but Bush-style Republicans seem to be spouting the most vicious hatespeak without much consequence. Indeed, it seems to garner them support. The double standard is what it is, I guess.

Mostly, I agree with you about anger. Certainly both Gandhi and King wrote about their own anger as motivation for action. The precursor to success is when your opponent recognizes your anger and respects it because you've convinced him you feel it out of care for the vulnerable, that you feel it without hating him, and that you will sacrifice yourself rather than plot to assassinate him. You liberate him to show you respect and take you much more, rather than much less, seriously.