Saturday, April 10, 2010

Nonviolent training without trainers

Nonviolence trainer George Lakey

Decades ago writing teacher Peter Elbow wrote a little book, Writing Without Teachers. Many of us of a certain (advanced) age have participated in such groups, and it involves lots of groupwork and feedback and iterative steps. Some of us who engaged in one or more such writing groups have written a fair amount since, in part due to his method.

I'd like to posit that groups can also do that with nonviolence in its various forms.

Do you want to learn Rosenberg's nonviolent communication? Get the book and organize a group who meets regularly to practice, critique, and learn from each other.

Do you want to prepare a campaign to shut down a nuclear power plant? Get any number of excellent books, choose one at a time, and develop a regular process of reading, discussing, and creating components of a campaign. Fold pieces of the theory in as you organize and act. Gandhi called it experiments in truth and the groups that learn as they organize are operating in a dialectical theory-practice environment that is quite rich.

The trainerless training

Do you plan to do your first group act of nonviolent resistance? View the DVD A Force More Powerful and prepare. Role play and evaluate. Help each other develop a code of behavior under duress and continue to role play that duress until you feel more natural in your responses.

If you choose a low level action with anticipated light consequences you can put your trainerless group into play with low risk and high chances for learning good lessons. Reality is a great teacher if you take the time to reflect together and fold your learnings into your next plan.

I had the opportunity to participate in some trainings years ago with George Lakey and I appreciated and learned from his method, which I characterize as 1-2-3. That is, take one part frontload, two parts role play, and three parts debrief.

How would this work for a trainerless training?

One person would take, say, one minute to describe the scenario that she had thought of before the meeting.

The roleplay itself would time out at two minutes.

Then the group would talk about it for three minutes.

The stress on evaluation is exactly opposite of many groups' approach. Many take three parts prep, two parts action, and perhaps one part (or almost no parts) reflection and evaluation. I have come to believe this is backward. I think the Lakey method is best.

If we continue to incorporate both the theoretical and experiential learnings into our trainerless trainings, I think we can advance steadily and productively. Reading Lakey, Sharp, Deming, Zunes, Ackerman and DuVall, Burrowes, Kurtz, and many more nonviolent theorists can help the group advance. Watch James Lawson (photo)
and Bernard Lafayette in A Force More Powerful as a group and learn together. Don't wait until you've read all the theory to engage in action and don't engage in successive actions without integrating the theory and learnings from case histories.

Or, as my old friend Larry Dodge used to call it, "inching along on the broad front." We learn by doing, yes, and we learn from books, yes, and we learn from outside experts, yes, but none of those learnings is enough. Bring them all together and your group learns the most the fastest. Leave out the outside experts and you can still progress with great certainty.

You have the expertise you need if you are curious and humble, daring and reflective. The world needs your participation in advancing humanity's movement toward nonviolence and you can start without gurus. You and your friends can train yourselves, starting whenever you decide.

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