Saturday, May 15, 2010

Teaching nonviolence: Process paramount

Although Sarah Palin and others want us to be a Christian nation (in the Constantinian Just War sense) and are willing to create fictions to support that notion, Plato spoke at least as clearly as Jesus did to the Founders. Indeed, as I was walking in Washington one fine winter day, on my way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Congressional end to the White House, I passed the Department of Justice and looked up to see, carved in stone at one top corner of the building, Plato's Conflict Resolution and Civil Resistance quote from 2,400 years ago, "“Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.” As I was walking toward a nonviolent act of resistance to nuclear weapons that would soon land me in the clogged arteries near the heart of the justice system in D.C., the words spoke to me quite clearly. Justice takes work; even the rulings of the Supremes get overturned--one wave of demagogic hatred can wipe out the footprint of a good jurist.

Nothing in the world of nonviolence is carved in stone except aphorisms noting the permanence of impermanence. Nothing is set in concrete except the one concrete principle that the ends are the means, process is product, and nothing is ever settled once and for all (time).

Christians justify war. Monks get guns. Democracy is installed and forcibly shoved down the throats of those who never voted for it and never rose up seeking it--even as it naturally thus devolves in the mother country into bickering reactionaries jerking each other's chains and serving up kneejerk ripostes rather than authentic appeal to altruism. There is no system of governance nor belief that does not require constant upkeeping and generation-to-generation renewal, maintenance and evolution. The live spirit in a faith can be usurped quickly into killer identity politics and greed can move like cancer into the heart of free people who do not guard against it. For those overcoming injustice, impermanence is hope; for those who are sure they've established a timeless practice, time will teach better.

This is the calling to which educators answer. Yes, growth and progress are important, but protecting our intellectual flanks from revisionist invasion and occupation takes devotion to pedagogy and andragogy that is both critical and repetitive. I am currently teaching students for whom Gulf War I is ancient history from before they were born and the fall of the Berlin Wall is nearly writ in hieroglyphics. Lessons from the Civil Rights movement are suspect and Gandhi is a myth. These are all students who have come through high school, and few of those schools send on students with a good set of balanced and informed priorities.

Hence, the need to teach and the need to teach process. In the field of Conflict Resolution and Civil Resistance (CR2) the way we learn and the way we decide are the way we make friends and organize. It is all adaptive and process-oriented or it doesn't work. The mythos of violence is the quick and permanent fix. The way we teach CR2 is that all our work is iterative and necessarily redundant. My slogan, from Denzel Washington in the film Philadelphia, is "Tell me like I'm a fourth grader." Keep it simple, or at least add simple layers one at a time, and build up understanding of the complexities of conflict management and our methods.

Indeed, that is the message I use when discussing the finding of the Freedom House 2005 study, showing that nonviolence is far more sustainable if we want civil rights, human rights, and democracy. Violence is a poor producer of all those metrics over the long haul, so that whatever the revolutionaries were dreaming of achieving with violence is a chimera, a polluted process that tries to guarantee finality and thus assures ephemera. CR2 is not only the only chance at win-win, it's the best hope for an outcome that mirrors the path we take to get there. That is what students need to learn.

Frosty should last forever, right? Actually, he's a digital moment and a neural bit in three minds. He's lost a lot of weight and little Alexa is already taller and heavier. Will nothing stop changing? Sigh...

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