Saturday, May 08, 2010

Teaching nonviolence

(Nonviolence teachers, mother and daughter)
Students are skeptical about nonviolence when they come into class. They usually leave convinced that nonviolence is the most adaptive method of conflict management. How does this happen?

First, we come to understand nonviolence as a way to fight for respect without engendering the massive consequences that using violence usually brings. No one needs to prove they can beat up Mr Nonviolence. In fact, when I was in prison, one fellow came over to my cot in the middle of the gang room and, towering over me, looked at me scornfully and said, "I'm going to knock out your fucking eye. What are you gonna do with your nonviolence?" I paused and thought to myself (as the rest of the room grew so silent you could hear breathing), this would be a wonderful time for my creative nonviolent response to work. Finally I said, 'Well, that would be mean of you and I'd reserve the right to see you catch another case.' That message was quite confusing. The room held its breath for a minute and then came a twitterlaugh from one or two guys. Then the big guy hulking over me laughed. We were friends from then on. I broke all the rules and rewrote them in the moment. I cared for his face and mine, literally, and it worked (thank goddess).

Second, we learn that it is the only possible chance for a win-win outcome. When you use violence against violence, there will be one winner at the most, and often two losers. At least with nonviolence you have a chance for a win-win.

Third, we learn that, when we use nonviolence, at least we aren't contributing to the level of violence in the world. We can control our own behavior and no one else's. (Las Madres braved the Pinochet regime and helped bring it down without harming anyone) If we aren't adding to the violence we remove at least that reason for anyone else to be violent.

Fourth, it becomes clear that the success rates of nonviolence are superior to those of violence. The empirical comparative studies are becoming fairly overwhelming in their cogency and robustness. In any given conflict, bet on the nonviolent side and it is your best bet. (Otpur in Serbia, where 'powerless' students prompted the end of the Milosevic dictatorship) You may not always win, but it will be more than half the time. With violence, you are lucky to collect a quarter of the time.

Fifth, the costs of violence are becoming better known and are huge, to the ecology and economy, to all other enterprises, and to the well being of the masses of people. (Che Guevara was in on one successful violent revolution that brought in decades of a military government and he advised many unsuccessful attempts, such as this one in Congo)

Sixth, the beneficiaries of violence are now understood and identified. They are the owner class, the military officers, the war profiteers and those who can extract the wealth--human and natural resources--of conquered regions. People on the ground, the regular people, do not benefit. They pay.

Finally, the factors in transforming conflict from destructive to constructive are more well known each year as peace research identifies and exegetes them for us. The numbers and qualities of the tools in our chest are far more mastered than ever. Nonviolence is no longer about saving our spiritual butts. It's about winning.

No comments: