Metta’s Opinion

Refugee Stories from Izmir

The following post was contributed by Annika Roes, who is currently in Izmir, Turkey, where she is volunteering with a refugee support group. Annika interned with the Metta Center last April.


It is a Tuesday night, and it is already a bit late when the doorbell rings. Another five people have come to join the Volunteers of Izmir.

The room is already full of people and there are no chairs left—but the newcomers are greeted and five glasses of steaming tea are quickly filled. Then there is a clap from one side of the room. “Guys, back to order! Let’s plan what we’ll do this week. So we’ll have three groups for Wednesday…” The  Volunteers of Izmir that now fill up that room are a group of Turkish and international people who only assembled themselves a few weeks ago to help the refugees in Izmir. Every week, more people join the volunteers, and more people receive help. (more…)

A Lesson (Still) Not Learned

Thanks to Counter Punch, Pace e Bene, and The Sierra County Prospect for publishing this essay on their sites.


I was deeply saddened to read last week of the death by suicide of Cmdr. Job Price who was with a Navy SEAL team in Afghanistan.

I was even sadder when I realized that the hopeful idea that sprung up in my mind was naive: “Now maybe people will understand why soldiers commit suicide.” The only reasons for his suicide that the media could offer were the usual suspects: it was a bad deployment, “a cautionary tale of how men were ground down by years of fighting and losing comrades,” and of course, the old fallback that puts a stop to the whole inquiry, “no one knows why.”

The fact is, we know very well why soldiers and veterans commit suicide – if we allow ourselves to know it. In his book, “On Killing,” Lt. Col. David Grossman describes that from the beginning of the historical record up to the Korean War, soldiers were extremely reluctant to kill their fellow human beings, going so far as reloading weapons they hadn’t fired.  Muskets were found on the battlefields of the American Civil War with as many as eighteen balls rammed down the barrel in this pretense. And what Grossman concluded has been strongly confirmed by science: human beings have a strong, inherent inhibition against killing and injuring their fellows.

We can, of course, be trained or conditioned to go against this inhibition; but what results is what psychologist Rachel MacNair calls Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS), a form of PTSD that affects not only combat soldiers but police officers, prison guards who carry out “legal” executions, and many others. In any of these people, the cognitive dissonance can lead to suicide. This inhibition is arguably what makes us human; we cannot violate it without serious consequences, no matter what society or our conscious minds tell us about it’s being necessary, or even glorious.

This inhibition, which we should be very proud of, goes back so far in evolution that we are born with “mirror neurons” in our brain that cause us to feel what others feel. Distinguished neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni of UCLA says, “Although we commonly think of pain as a fundamentally private experience, our brain actually treats it as an experience shared with others.”

In Grossman’s second book, “Let’s Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill,” he reports that after the military had discovered how few men were actually firing their weapons in combat situations, it set about conditioning recruits to override the inhibition. In some cases, they simply used the same games that our children are playing on their X-Box or Playstation (hence Grossman’s title). They were very “successful” – that is, in increasing the firing rate – not in changing human nature.

A SEAL is supposed to be beyond all this, but the case of Cmdr. Price shows it isn’t so. Now, I have no idea what goes into the making of a Navy SEAL, but as part of basic training in the regular army, recruits shout out in unison when asked the purpose of the bayonet “to kill, kill without mercy.” But to be without mercy is to be without your humanity. And this is what veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are telling us: “I lost my soul in Iraq,” “I no longer like who I am,” etc.

When will we realize that the reluctance to kill and injure is not an inconvenience, but a precious capacity that we should celebrate and reward and that we could use as a guide to how we can and should live?

There was, to be sure, one hint in the press: just before he killed himself, Cmdr. Price had in his pocket a report about an Afghan girl who had died in an explosion near the base. But it was mentioned without comment, and of course with no attempt to draw conclusions. It’s left to you and me to tell this story when and wherever we get a chance. Of course, it means that Americans will have to rethink how we conduct ourselves in the international arena, how we treat offenders in our society – many such things must be examined and re-examined, and we shouldn’t shrink from this challenge. The alternative is to go on dehumanizing our servicemen and women, who are already committing suicide at an appalling rate. And why should we shrink from it, when if we accept it we can build a far better world based on the true recognition of who we are.

Emergence: The Winter 2015/2016 Issue

Emerg cover_Winter 2015:2016MC Yogi appears on the cover of the Winter 2015/2016 issue of Emergence, which revolves around yoga, spirituality, and action.

In addition to touring the world with his music, MC Yogi runs a yoga studio in Point Reyes Station, CA. He has taught yoga at diverse venues, from festivals and museums to the White House (yes, that White House).

You won’t want to miss our feature Q&A with him—he dives deep into our questions about his music, Gandhi’s activism, and what change looks like for him.

This latest issue of Emergence is being packaged and addressed—it should be reaching mailboxes very soon. Not a regular donor lined up to receive the print edition? You’ll still be able to see the whole issue: we’ll share the PDF version with you in early February.


Behavior Change Practices in Schools

Perhaps part of what makes restorative practices so effective is that these practices embody a variety of approaches to behavior change.

These approaches markedly contrast with what many media outlets have served the public in 2015; numerous news reports, that highlighted the use of physical force and sometimes violence in schools, dominated the public’s attention on school behavior management. Some examples of these stories can be found here and here.

Kids raise handsAlthough these news stories highlighted legitimate school behavioral management concerns, they provide little in way of explaining how behavior change could function in school settings. They framed behavior change as a choice; that is, students might logically choose not to engage in these behaviors again because of harsh consequences (this is a part of the theory of reasoned action). They stressed the use of power to force behavior change. Ultimately, they provided little incentive for readers to consider engaging in empathy, understanding, or compassion for all people involved, so that readers might develop a more comprehensive understanding of behavior change.


What the World Needs Most: Real Freedom


What the world needs most at this time is free human beings—for each and every one of us to fully realize that we’re not mere consumers, or wage/wealth slaves, or pawns in geopolitical games; that we’re free to find peace and happiness.

That we’re free to love ourselves, as we are.

That we’re free to love others, as they are.

That we’re free to cherish the animal and plant kingdoms, to stare in wonder at the stars and the moon above us.

That we’re free to step into the big messy void of uncertainty and heal the wounds we’ve been carrying around for so long.

That we’re free to trust our creative longings and potential.

The current system asks us to go along with a spirit-crushing program that denies/attempts to deny us these freedoms at every turn. The results are devastating. On a personal level, many of us feel that something’s missing but we don’t know what it is or how to find it. On a collective level, we are feeding the twin beasts of war and exploitation.

What the world needs most at this time is human beings who believe that we’re all free to feel ALIVE.

To know ourselves, from the inside out.

To wholeheartedly confront the ways in which we suffer so that we can undo our addictions to conflict and violence.

To nourish openness in the mind, spaciousness in the heart.

Here’s to our happy and peaceful freedom in 2016.

COP21 – the Unrecognized Milestone

In the following post, Miki Kashtan, author, co-founder of Bay Area NVC and lead collaboration consultant at The Center for Efficient Collaboration, offers her reflections on the process that brought 195 countries into consensus at the COP21. Then, Michael Nagler, President of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, responds with his additional thoughts regarding the principles of nonviolence therein.




Q&A: Artist Robert Shetterly

“The greatest gift of art is that it can give people permission to think differently, to alter both consciousness and conscience,” says Robert Shetterly. “Well-made art authenticates its own message. We can’t have enough good art.”

Robert is a self-taught visual artist and a writer and cultural change agent. His painting of humane educator Zoe Weil appears alongside Stephanie Van Hook’s interview of Zoe in the Winter 2015 issue of the Metta Center’s magazine, Emergence (out in January). That painting is part of Robert’s portrait series Americans Who Tell the Truth, a project he launched with an image of Walt Whitman in 2002 and continues building upon.


Nonviolence Education: The Story of Broad Rock

The following post was written by Carol Bragg, a graduate of the Metta Center’s Certificate in Nonviolence Studies program.

Imagine a school where, each morning, the principal recites one of the principles of nonviolence and asks students to think about that principle throughout the day. Picture a school that has monthly assemblies devoted to one of these nonviolence principles. Imagine a school where more than 30 teachers, staff and administrators are so committed to their students’ emotional well-being that they take after-school trainings to equip themselves to teach, coach and model a nonviolent approach to conflict. Then, try to think of a school that sets as its goal becoming a nonviolent school as the foundation for a peaceful community, state and world.

For those who yearn for a more peaceful world and a lessening of violence, vitriol and fear, this may seem like a fairy tale. But it is no myth – a miracle, perhaps, but entirely true.

Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown, RI has embarked on an ambitious mission to become a model school based Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence. The inspiration came from Robin Wildman, who has taught Kingian nonviolence education for 15 years. Observers have remarked that when walking into her classroom, one can feel the sense of respect, compassion and community that she has built with and among her students. Wildman accomplishes this by spending the first three weeks of the school year teaching nonviolence lessons, to establish the framework for how the class will operate for the remainder of the year. She says it is time well spent. The outcome is more time spent on teaching, and less on discipline.

Nonviolence curriculum includes principles and steps to address conflict, civil rights history, types and levels of conflict, finding the “truth” in your opponent’s position, and devising a reconciliation plan as part of the resolution of conflict. Over time, habits for addressing conflict change. The curriculum is a “wrap-around,” not an “add-on,” readily incorporating aspects of diversity, anti-bullying and restorative justice programs, among others.

Last year, some of Robin’s colleagues came to her and asked to be trained. Since then she has conducted four 20-hour trainings. Broad Rock trainees include five 6th grade teachers, eight 5th grade teachers, two administrators, three teaching assistants, two music teachers, six special educators, two guidance counselors, and a nurse, librarian and art teacher.

About twenty of those trained have formed a nonviolence committee, the largest committee at Broad Rock, which meets monthly in pursuit of the goal of becoming a nonviolent school. The committee has created a multi-year action plan, modified the PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) and Olweus (anti-bullying) curricula to incorporate nonviolence language, organized monthly assemblies, and established a nonviolence reteaching model for in-school suspensions. The in-school suspension room is staffed by a substitute teacher, but personnel trained in nonviolence stop by during their free time to talk with the student who’s been suspended, creating a community of support. The nonviolence committee plans to start parent education and mindfulness training.