Ask Metta

Have a question that relates to nonviolence? In need of a particular type of resource? Want to bounce a nonviolent idea off of someone? You’ve come to the right place! Ask Metta is our section for questions and discussion of nonviolence: ideas, principles, and practice. Our intention is that the archive of previously asked questions and responses will be a continually growing resource. Scroll down to read the latest questions. Have a nonviolence question of your own? Send it to ask@mettacenter.org.

 

Recent Questions


Question:

Hello

I am in search of a K-8 non-violence/diversity education curriculum that can be incorporated into my school district.  Can you recommend anything, or do you know of any organizations that offer grants to schools that want to incorporate this kind of curriculum?  Any information you have would be appreciated.
thank you
Christine

Answer:

Hi Christine,

You may be interested in the website Teaching Tolerance, which is run by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as the resources on the Educators for Nonviolence section of Metta’s site and our older EFNV site, which is no longer being updated but has a lot of information.

–Erika

I would recommend ”The Friendly Classroom for a Small Planet.” New Society Press, !998. The book is also handled by Children’s Creative Response to Conflict, http://www.planet-rockland.org/conflict/Publications.html

I believe a more modern edition has been prepared.
– Ian Harris



Question:

Dear Metta, I thought to share a news paper article with you about the *Palestine Papers*, that I think you won’t read in the US. I’m not sure if the suggestion that it’s the PA who leaked the documents is likely or true, but I do agree that: “the Palestine Papers prove that this “peace process” just allows Israel to build more settlements and grab more Palestinian land. And the papers also prove that *Israel is unlikely to make the sacrifices that Palestinians are willing to make*.”

Therefore, I personally think that negotiations should be stopped till we can see an improvement, a willingness from the Israeli side, that would encourage the Palestinians that a state is actually possible. This may be achieved with *Nonviolent resistance* to the occupation. Do you agree with me?* Should negotiations be stopped for now?* I’d be curious to read your opinions!

Love, Nina

Answer:

Hi Nina,

My two cents is that there should be more nonviolence for sure, both resistant and constructive.  Probably the negotiations should be boycotted, but they’d have to be careful because the line from the Israeli side is “see, they won’t negotiate.”  There’s a chance that lie can be broken through now.
– Michael Nagler



Question:

As a peace activist in the Catholic Church I’ve been having an ongoing talk with a number of my nonviolent colleagues and we’ve begun to be somewhat critical of the stance of religious institutions towards gays and lesbians. Since I usually only look at nonviolent literature from a Christian perspective, I was wondering what other nonviolent activists think about this? It seems to me that the acceptance of a nonviolent lifestyle would automatically support those who are undergoing persecution. Any thoughts? Also… do you know of any literature on this subject?

Answer:


Question:

I hope that you’ll allow me a serious question about non-violence. A friend of mine is committed to your perspective. Here is my question: “Do you advocate local, state, or national police personnel carrying and using weapons? If not, why not? If so, when & how? Does weapon use contradict maintaining a perspective of nonviolence?”

Answer:

Weapon use certainly contradicts a perspective of nonviolence. As for carrying a weapon, lets be honest: the act of carrying a weapon signifies a person’s willingness to use that weapon. What purpose would carrying a weapon serve if it didn’t communicate the threat of violent force? And that threat of violent force is at odds with the goal of de-escalation—the reduction of violence that is the very objective of the nonviolence practitioner.

The main purpose of police forces, self-described, is to keep the peace, and the widespread belief in our culture is that “peacekeeping” means using threat power to deter acts of violence. In nonviolence, the goal is to stop violence through methods that de-escalate, that is, reduce, and ideally, stop the violence so that the underlying causes of the violence can be addressed. The level of violence in a conflict situation increases over time, and in nonviolence it is necessary to recognize how pervasive and entrenched the conflict is before deciding how to approach it. In America, and especially in those areas that have the highest crime rates, the violence has become fairly severe and it is going to take a lot of work and a multifaceted approach to begin to bring the level of violence down and start healing the underlying causes. Furthermore, we are facing a situation in many cities where the police have become entangled in the conflict: there have been incendiary incidents where officers have brutalized (sometimes fatally) civilians, and the level of resentment and hatred engendered by these acts has compromised the ability of many police departments to carry out their mission. It would not be realistic to expect police forces to abruptly stop carrying weapons in this situation, nor is it realistic, really, to expect that armed police forces to effectively reduce the level of violence in our cities, given the degree of distrust between them and the people they are meant to serve. Nonviolent third parties, however, can work to end violence, and they can (in fact they must) do so without carrying weapons. Known as unarmed civilian peacekeepers (or sometimes called “peace teams”), these individuals trained in the methods of nonviolence can act as neutral third-parties in areas laden with violence and conflict to help protect innocent people and diffuse tensions to create space for those doing the work of addressing the root causes of violence and crime. Many experiments with peacekeeping of this kind have actually been in war zones in other countries, but there is starting to be increased interest in domestic peace teams. This type of peacekeeping works with and within neighborhoods to reduce violence and rebuild the social fabric, and could work to mend the relationship between local police and the public. In an ideal situation, unarmed peacekeeping could replace the current approach of armed police forces as a way of creating safe neighborhoods. This could be through the continued presence of unarmed civilian peacekeepers, or through training the police in nonviolence, or both. Remember that in some countries (such as the UK and Norway) regular police officers are not armed (though such countries often have ‘special forces’ that are). It is only the level and degree of violence in the United States that makes it necessary for police officers patrolling neighborhoods continuing to carry guns.

For more resources, check out Nonviolent Peaceforce (focuses on international unarmed peacekeeping) and Michigan Peace Teams.


Question:

Every month I meet as a member of a gathering of two Catholic communities, one progressive and one conservative, who come together on a Sunday to discuss important social issues. We call this “Justice Sunday.” The issues discussed in the past include the Death Penalty, the Palestine-Israel conflict, Immigration, and aspects of US foreign policy. In a future meeting we would like to explore the topic of nonviolent communication. We sense the benefit this could provide us. What suggestions can you provide?

Answer:

Metta Center doesn’t specialize in nonviolent communication, but there are some resources we can point you to. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication is the most well known, including his book and website. I would also recommend looking into the resources put out by our partner Pace e Bene, who teach a technique of communication that they call CARA: Center, Articulate, Receive, and Agree, the details of which can be found on their website and in their Engage book, which is an excellent resource for nonviolent transformation.


Question:

I teach high school history and want to present the downfall of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) regime in 1989 as the result of nonviolent action (Professor Nagler talked about this in one of the Berkeley podcasts). My question: Do you know if the people who started the peaceful demonstrations in Leipzig were consciously using nonviolence because they were familiar with and dedicated to principled nonviolence, or was their choice the result of just not being very well armed (and therefore, a feeling that nonviolence was their only choice)? I’d appreciate any insight or information on the matter.

Answer:

There has not been a mass movement, even the Indian freedom struggle, in which we could say that in general ‘the people’ involved were committed to principled nonviolence.  It’s a matter of degree within each person. In the case of the Berlin Wall coming down, the demonstrations in Leipzig that led up to that event were started by members of the local Lutheran community, who advocated nonviolence from a position of religious conviction. This relatively small group persistently held the prayerful “Monday Demonstrations,” and were gradually joined by others—conscientious objectors, environmental activists, those organizing around human rights issues—groups who were socially and politically engaged and who resonated with the underlying nonviolent principles, even if they didn’t necessarily share in that particular religious perspective. The demonstrations continued for months until they eventually reached a tipping point when they were joined by masses of people who were attracted to a viable nonviolent resistance movement against the GDR. As is the case in many nonviolent movements, those who joined, particularly those who joined towards the end of the movement, may not have taken part out of any deep commitment to nonviolence itself, but because it was “the only game in town.” It is also the case, however, that the participation of the masses was precipitated by—and therefore impossible without—the comparatively smaller group of trailblazers who were pursuing nonviolence on a principled basis, setting the example that made the experiment possible.


Question:

Hello! I have been speaking with my friend about naxalites/maoists in India that want to separate from India. My friend (who is Indian) asked this question: ”I wonder if nonviolence would work in Northeast India [where the maoists are active]? Not because I doubt the power of Ahimsa (nonviolence), but only because Indians have lost the true meaning of Ahimsa. It has become this trendy word from the Gandhi era that has been carried forward. The problems here are so complex that one doesn’t know where to begin from!”

Now, I was thinking that there are several separatist groups in India. And obviously they have their reasons to want to govern themselves. But all their strugles are violent. It’s sad that that’s the case in Gandhi’s birth place. How can separatists be stimulated to use nonviolent menthods? Or, as my friend asked, ’Where to begin…?
 
 

Answer:

The first thing to do to begin to answer is take this apart!!

What stands out to me is that there are two questions– 
a. Could nonviolence work in the NE with separatists? 
b. Could it work given that Indians seem to have lost the meaning since Gandhi?
that influence your asking two more questions–
c.How can separatists be stimulated to use nonviolent methods? 
d. Where to begin? 
—-
The questions themselves leave no reason to suggest that nonviolence couldn’t work, depending on who you are asking! The simple answer to (a) and (b) is: ‘yes’ in so far as Gandhi knew that nonviolence is “as old as the hills,” it’s meaning is not completely ever lost, nor was it the case that  he invented it meaning that we could lose it when he shed his body. As you know, what Gandhi showed us that nonviolence when taken upon oneself –strategically, responsibly, and systematically– works. And his life, legacy, and even points of constructive program have encouraged us to look at separatism and violence.  
As to the layers of complexity (and question (d)) We can begin by reminding ourselves that we have different mechanisms for handling conflict and that while we resort to separation to make a point, it is not our true nature and hence will never bring us true happiness. The Truth of our being cannot, by unalterable law, tend toward separation.  
We can also begin by acknowledging human history’s engagement in struggle, more precisely in terms of questioning our means in a context, not our means alone: why violence has been the chosen means to effect struggle and whether there is some cognitive content in our collective histories and popular culture we passively take in leading us to believe that the right way to engage in struggle is to use violence, and that it could ever bring us what we really want. There is work for us here.
The question begs (borrowing your method): could anyone create the space where nonviolence can be the popular solution? It depends on how we envision the end of our struggle as much as it depends on who you ask. Again, the short answer is “yes,” and suggest that to be concrete we would need to be very clear about what that end actually looks like in detail; and that can be fruitful only to the extent that both sides were to deal with the core issues that are manifesting socially through the relentless and on-going processes of re-humanization and principled mediation and negotiation.

Question:

I’m a senior at St. Paul Open School, in St. Paul Minnesota, whom you granted an interview a couple months ago. You were very kind and helpful. My History Day partner and I have started working on Satyagraha for our History Day project, and we have a clarifying question. In our project we talk about how Satyagraha is used with two groups of people with unequal power, where one of them is more powerful than the other, but that Satyagraha has not been proved successful with two equally powerful groups. Can you disprove our theory? Is there any time in history where this has been proved wrong?
 
Answer:

Your question is a bit hard to answer, because in the study of nonviolence we recognize that there are different kinds of power. One group — the state, let’s say — might have a lot of military and financial power, while an opposing group — satyagrahis — have ’soul force’ or ‘people power.’ Gandhi offered Satyagraha with success toward the British (who had military and political power over him), toward his fellow Indians (to get them to stop persecuting ‘lower’ castes), and toward the Harijans (low or outcastes) themselves. In other words, Gandhi was successful with nonviolence in all directions of power relationship: ‘up’, ‘across,’ and ‘down.’ Usually when two groups feel they have about equal power they don’t feel they need recourse to Satyagraha, so of course you won’t find many examples of that; but there’s no reason in the world that it would not be applicable between equals — or for that matter between any two groups. (Incidentally, there’s a climactic scene in the film SOUTH CENTRAL in which two characters are facing each other with loaded guns. One of them slowly puts his weapon down on the floor and faces the other calmly and bravely, who then puts HIS gun away. That’s Satyagraha between equals!)