Metta’s Opinion

Restorative Practices & Social Change Action

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. Part 1 looked at preparing for holding a difficult conversation about poverty. Here, I clarify how restorative practices might help facilitate a conversation about poverty and what to do to address poverty.


The preparations I mentioned in Part 1 included recollecting thoughts on the matter, nonviolent communication practice, and familiarity with using RPS circles. Perhaps we might also assume that interest in poverty emerged from previous discussions and that all participants are engaged in the conversation and have developed relationships and rapport through previous circle-based conversations.

The Proactive Restorative Practice Circle

The proactive RPS circle, one type of circle within RPS, offers a discussion structure from which many of the best and inclusive teaching practices might be used to build relationships, awareness, compassion, and opportunities for learning. An introductory example of what one might look like can be found here.

Several features of an RPS circle facilitate its utility:

  1. Students and teachers engage in RPS circles regularly such that they internalize procedural expectations and have experienced the benefits of such a circle.
  2. Students and teachers sit in the circle together without desks or items to distract attention from the conversation.
  3. Although the circle formation removes distractions and equates spatial prominence (i.e., everyone is equally prominent), it does not determine participation. That is, circle participants may choose to institute rules including a designated talking-piece that signals who has may speak in a given moment or that all must talk in a given conversation. However, circles are inherently flexible —some may not wish to speak about certain topics and thus some groups may adjust expectations accordingly. They may also structure three go-arounds, at the beginning, middle, and end of the session, in which each student has a chance to make a comment.
  4. Circles also may bound different types of conversations. An initial conversation about poverty may be solely be a collective exercise to generate awareness. Subsequent conversations may be about personal experiences with poverty, discussions about what causes poverty, how does it impact life at school, and any actions the group might take.

college students in circle

Inclusive Discussion

Given the complexity of poverty, one best and inclusive teaching practice might be to encourage learning without imposing particular viewpoints. RPS communication practices support two particular processes vital for maintaining awareness of imposition and domination. First, they aid an individual or group of individuals to identify and explore implicit assumptions that they might hold or disagree about. Foremost, RPS communication practices seek to split observations from implicit judgments, beliefs, values, and private agendas; that is, they try to ground discussions of poverty in observations. Given that many likely have different sets of observations, RPS communication practitioners can use these conversation tools to clearly communicate their observations, feelings, and any needs associated with navigating disagreements. Second, they might help a group navigate instances when one might perceive a particular violation of group expectations within a discussion of a contentious topic. Again, they ground sense-making and interpretive processes in observations, feelings, needs, and requests.

Taking realistic action

Participants in RPS circles might elect to take realistic social change action. As mentioned previously, RPS are not designed to address larger social problems by themselves. Community organizing, legal advocacy, community development, action research, and restorative practices with larger groups are designed to address those problems. However, RPS circles can be used to identify sources of problems and how they manifest, construct collective narratives or oppression, brainstorm actions, navigate conflicts that might emerge during these action, and reflect throughout the process.

Taken together, RPS circles offer ways to engage with difficult conversations in ways that do not reproduce hegemony. They offer versatile platforms from which educators might engage with students in creative and constructive ways—particularly when they are embedded within and embody restorative principles.

Restorative Practices & Difficult Conversations

This will be a two-part blog post. In this first part, I focus on preparation for holding a difficult conversation about poverty, and in the second, I will clarify how restorative practices might help facilitate a conversation about poverty and what to do to address poverty.


In an earlier post about addressing misconceptions often made associated with restorative practices (RPS), I mentioned that educators may be hesitant to employ RPS because RPS might reveal some real sources of problems that emerge in schools through honest and critical dialogue with students. They may be concerned that conversations that take place in restorative circles might identify poverty and other forms of systematic exclusion and marginalization as sources of problems that students experience at school.

Given that these conversations emerge within the social bounds of schools (as opposed to in the broader community, where poverty is largely reproduced), some educators are concerned that addressing these problems will reproduce neoliberal tendencies in which addressing problems are relegated to the individual, or an individual school, and away from broader sociopolitical structures.

In turn, I suggested that RPS are critical for talking through and coordinating more comprehensive approaches (e.g. community organizing, legal advocacy, leadership development, action research, and other approaches) to address such sources of problems. However, I did not discuss how RPS might be relevant to a meaningful conversation about poverty and considering subsequent action. Thus I will consider: (more…)

The Trump Question: Are You Listening?

lovetrumps copyMaybe, instead of rallying against Trump the man, we could connect with his supporters. And maybe that’s the only thing that will do any good.

Trump seems to embody everything wrong with this country, at least in the circles I run in. He’s the American Ego run rampant, an American bogeyman. Recently, I overheard my daughter and some friends having an impromptu comedy show in the living room. Suddenly, their giggles turned to raucous peals of laughter. They had decided to make Trump the butt every joke in their comedy routine.

Meanwhile, my Facebook feed was overrun by post after post shaming Trump for the controversial things he says and slamming his supporters for being either too dumb or two bigoted to know any better. In the real world, protesters were turning up the heat on Trump, obstructing him in every way they could, but no matter how riled-up his opponents got and no matter what terrible things he said, Trump’s popularity continued to grow.

In early April, I attended the (absolutely amazing) Person Power Yoga retreat that Metta Center hosted and, quite unsurprisingly, Trump was a topic that popped up over and over. On the second day of the retreat, at the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) presentation lead by Lou Zweier, a novel idea began to scratch at my cerebral cortex. Through the lens of NVC, behind all communication there is a need that wants to be fulfilled: security, respect, love, understanding, connection, attention, accomplishment, safety, creativity, the list goes on. I began to wonder, what are the needs that are attracting people to Trump?

(more…)

New Story: The Essay & The Film

In his 1978 essay “The New Story: Comments on The Origination and Transmission of Values,” Thomas Berry essentially coined the term “the New Story.”

In that essay, he spoke of a troubling disregard of the earth by both religion and science. “The earth will not be ignored, nor will it long endure being despised, neglected, or mistreated,” he wrote. “The limitations of redemption rhetoric and the scientific rhetoric can both be seen, and a new more integral language of being and value can emerge.” (Read and/or download the 17-page essay.) (more…)

Campaign Nonviolence: Call Recap

CNV-first-slide-with-boy1

Each month, Campaign Nonviolence (CNV) hosts a National Conference Call to build community and share ideas for participating in CNV’s upcoming Action Week in September.

April’s call was held yesterday. Moderated by activist/author Rivera Sun, the 60-min conversation packed in plenty of inspiration and take-action tips. At the start of the call, Ken Butigan (Pace e Bene’s director) and Rev. John Dear (Pace e Bene’s outreach coordinatior) recalled their recent experiences at the first-ever nonviolence conference at the Vatican, where participants called for an end to the Just War theory in favor of a Just Peace doctrine. For Ken, a highlight was acknowledging Church violence, an important step in turning toward nonviolence. He then called for all of us to do the same: to look at the violences within our own traditions so as to turn them toward nonviolence. (more…)

Rethinking Earth Day Celebrations

The following piece is and adapted version of a post that originally appeared on the Peace Resource Center of San Diego’s (PRCSD) Facebook page. Stephanie Knox Cubbon, Director of Education at the Metta Center, serves on the PRCSD board.


 

Every year for Earth Day, San Diego holds Earth Fair, which bills itself as the “largest annual free environmental fair in the world.” Last year, I rode my bike to Balboa Park, where the fair takes place, a bike route that I frequent as I go about town. The difference on this particular day was the traffic: normally not congested, it was bumper-to-bumper, and I huffed and puffed my way up the steep hill, choking on the exhaust coming out of the cars. This is no way to celebrate Earth Day! I thought. There should be less traffic on Earth Day, not more…

Things only got worse as I got to the park. Consumerism was rampant, and booth after booth was selling things—cheap t-shirts, junk food, things we don’t need. I felt a sense of dismay. The spirit of so many people wanting to come out and celebrate the Earth was positive, and seeing people come out to enjoy the park on a beautiful day and be in community was lovely, but how we were celebrating this day—a day originally intended for awareness-raising and conservation—troubled me. It seemed like we were missing the point. The very event that was supposed to celebrate and care for the Earth was committing violence against it, with all the pollution, over-consumption and waste being generated. Is this really how the Earth would want us to celebrate her? I kept thinking, and How does the Earth want to be celebrated? (more…)

Re-Sourcing Activism

“The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace.  It destroys our own inner capacity for peace.  It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” ~ Thomas Merton

This morning, I put on the yellow Champion polyester shirt matching the yellow Polar watch that records heart rate, calories and miles.  I am training for a race in Marina Bay in June.  A month ago, I started running again, 20 years and a half a dozen injuries after I stopped.

During the walk to the Berkeley Aquatic Park, my preferred running site, I noticed a tiny bird whose name I do not know sitting on the edge of a rooftop, singing its heart out.  The trees framing the sides of the house swayed and rattled in the cool air, and a soft sun peeked through the web of leaves. A bush of geranium flowers tickled my nose when I breathed in its sweetness. In the back of my mind, a scolding voice demanded that I “stop it with the distractions” and “get to it.” A few steps later, a bed of roses, pink, red and coral, each with its own scent, called to me. A few more steps after that, a brown furry cat with green eyes approached me cautiously, then moved closer to caress my calves with its torso while brushing my knee with its tail. Across the street, a little girl next to a kneeling mother pointed and smiled our way. (more…)

Person-Power Bodies: Instruments of Peace

This past weekend, the Metta Center hosted our Person-Power Yoga Retreat. As a yoga teacher, I’m constantly exploring links between our individual mind-body health and societal health. I had planned to speak about creating greater peace and happiness within ourselves and around us by consciously hacking our nervous systems. Toward the end of the retreat, we collectively favored group discussion, so we didn’t get around to my talk. Since a few people expressed curiosity about the topic, I’ve re-purposed the ideas into a post. Enjoy!


 

We are much more than our bodies—we are mind and spirit too. Yet it is very much through our amazing bodies that we live as human beings.

It is through our bodies that we experience person power, our ability to convert destructive states like fear and anger into constructive energies like love and compassion. It therefore makes sense to understand how we can wisely use our bodies to develop our person power.

Do you remember how you first learned about the human body? For many of us who grew up in the US, this grade-school song was lesson #1:

This song conveyed the idea that underneath our skin, we were just bones. But what about the parts of us we can’t easily identify, like the thoughts and emotions that arise and are expressed in our bodies—what is their meaning in our lives? What about the fact that we all came into being on this planet and that, as a result, we’re in this life thing together, not separately? That we’re in relationship with the rest of life around us, because that life makes our existence not only possible but a joy? (more…)