Thursday, June 24, 2010

From payback to pay it forward

When I'm in pain about something that happened to me or to someone else, the next person who offends me may get a double reaction. Is this fair? No. Is it human? Yes. And it also multiplies the pain, since that second person now has been hurt by me and will carry that until releasing on someone else. The old syndrome of the wimpy man beating up his wife or kids because everyone has been intimidating him all day is stereotypical but too often true and generalizable. Only with a rational self-confrontation can we begin to understand and correct our own behaviors, and we usually have to keep reminding ourselves of that. Those who deal with others in their work learn it professionally or they are poor professionals. That is part of the potential value of the study of conflict resolution and nonviolent theory and practice. It takes some of the mystery out of conflict transformation and makes nonviolent success seem less like a miracle and more like a logical outcome.
Dr. Maciej Bartkowski of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict looks at some of these questions as they might relate to nonviolence challenging extreme violence. For example, in the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos became more and more violent even as the opposition moved more and more toward nonviolence, meeting the escalating violence with professionally disciplined nonviolence.(Filipina nonviolence professionals pictured) He looks at it through various lenses, including a very rational supply, demand, and competitive products model. When radical response is desired, violence is often in demand because it is what people have understood as the most robust response. Fighters volunteer to supply the demand. If we are vigorous on the nonviolent side we can offer the competing product, nonviolent responses and challenges. It requires great levels of competencies and one of those competencies is our adherence to a code of conduct that may feel counterintuitive when cathartic violence attracts many.
Writ small, this requires us to think like professionals. I recall counseling my own father, at one point, when he was beside himself with frustration at his mother's (my grandmother's) behavior and attitudes. My father was a psychologist, a counselor, and I turned it on him. "Pop," I suggested, "treat Mabel like a client." He thought about it, tried it, and told me it was enormously helpful, and even allowed him to regain some love for her as he was able to set aside his current exasperation and think of some of the nice times when he was a child. Creating these internal boundaries between our emotional triggers and our actual behavior is key to making progress on the interpersonal as well as the international fronts.
Nonviolent professionals. That's quite a concept. One of the best new initiatives is Nonviolent Peaceforce, a transnational nongovernmental professional conflict management and transformation organization. They train quite seriously.
Alternatives to violence present the way to pay it forward, to frontload our environments with examples of more adaptive ways to approach our conflicts. Professional discipline might offer us a way forward, even when we are surrounded by those who continue to try to take out their pain inflicted by someone else upon us.

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