Metta’s Opinion

The Cure for Distraction is Mindfulness

By Todd Diehl

distractionsWhile people all over the country at all levels of education and policy attempt to diagnose the ailments and causes of the decline of American education, I can do it in one simple word: distraction.

There are so many things competing for our students’ attention these days. When I was in high school, we had to go home to a television or our radios to play video games, watch movies or listen to music. Today, they have a device that does all that and more—including ways to keep in touch with and impress people all over the country—in the palm of their hands.

Those phones represent a powerful and relentless temptation. On a given day, I tell my students to put their phones away and focus an average of 27 times. In spite of all my entreaties, suggestions, and reminders of consequences, students still turn to their phones on a regular basis.

It’s easy to see we are distracted as a whole society. The classic example is of the man who is attempting to text and walk at the same time and ends up tripping over something in the street. Of course texting and driving is a serious concern. In fact, one study said the effects of texting while driving on concentration are effectively the same as driving while drunk. Imagine how hard it is to learn new, complicated material if your brain is impaired in a way similar to being inebriated!

I have tried numerous suggestions for students to help them focus. Once, a bit tongue in cheek, I told them I wanted to show them a fancy new feature on their phones: that they turn off. Some schools, in fact, require students turn their phones off while in the building, and while that helps, it doesn’t teach students how to manage this constant supplier of endless distractions. I believe in a much more holistic, far reaching approach to end distraction: mindfulness.

It would be an easy thing to teach kids at an early age how to recognize when their minds are distracted, then have them practice a moment of mindfulness to get back on task. You could teach or recommend whichever mindfulness method you prefer: mantram, deep breathing, reciting a short verse or passage. This would serve the simple purpose of refocusing a student’s mind when it wanders off. The benefits to the students’ discipline and grades would be quite remarkable, I am sure. But it could also easily apply to other sectors of the students’ lives, from managing emotions to managing temptations. From the limited teaching of mindfulness I have begun to engage in (you have to present it carefully in a public school) students have expressed positive responses, saying that it helped them calm down and focus in a soccer game or during a test. And Congressmen Paul Ryan of Ohio has seen some very positive results in his mindfulness training programs for children in public schools in Ohio—the elementary school teachers also appreciated the training!

I recall a chapter of Robert Wolff’s Original Wisdom in which Robert teaches the Sng’oi people of Malaysia how to read and write. He did this at their request and the teaching took, in total, a day and a half. What this demonstrates is that human beings have a remarkable, innate capacity for learning when they are motivated and focused. It is our duty as teachers, beyond teaching reading, writing, and math skills, to help students navigate through our fragmented world and focus on what is important in the present moment. With focus and mindfulness, we can tap into our primal learning power, and free our students from the endless maze of distractions to a world of self-discovery and knowledge.

Women of the Civil Rights Movement

Take a moment and think of some notable American female leaders…

Probably Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Blackwell, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Golda Meir are a few women that immediately come to mind.

Now take a moment and think of female leaders of the Civil Rights Movement…

Probably Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Diane Nash, Daisy Bates and Fannie Lou Hamer are some of the first, most recognized names that come to mind. None have received the acclaim and recognition given to the male leaders of the movement.

In the spirit of MLK month and in honor of the female leaders who fought for equal rights for blacks, let’s add a gender sensitive perspective to this part of our nonviolent history by giving special recognition to just a few of the fearless women of the Civil Rights movement. 

Colia Clark

colia-clarkOne of influential leaders of the Civil Rights movement in Selma, Alabama. Colia initially got involved with the Civil Rights Movement through her work with the NAACP. As field secretary for the NAACP, Colia created the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council, known for initiating the 1963 mass movement in Jackson.  She then joined Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) and SNCC, where she moved to Selma as a field secretary with her then husband, Bernard Lafayette. There she created the Black Belt Alabama Voter Education Project, and was part of the Southern Organizing Committee in Nashville, Tennessee. She worked in coordination with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to create the Near West Side Union to End Slums Movement in the West Side First Ward.

Since her work in Selma, Alabama, Mrs. Clark has continued her work as an advocate. She created HUERA (Humanism, Unity Economy Rights and the Arts) where she conducts workshops in conflict resolution and mediation. She was a distinguished representative of the U.S. in the African Union conference. She is also the USA coordinator for the International Commission of Inquiry on Haiti.

Ella Baker

In 1940, Ella was involved with the NAACP as a field secretary and director of branches. She co-founded In Friendship to raise money to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South. She later moved to Atlanta, Georgia to organize the SCLC there in addition to creating the Crusade for Citizenship, a black voter registration campaign.

“The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence…” – Ella Jo Baker

Baker’s influence is best represented in her nickname, “Fundi”, a Swahili word meaning “a person who teaches a craft to the next generation.” After the Greensboro sit-ins, Ella left SCLC to train new student activists in Gandhian nonviolence and direct action. Her trainings at Shaw University would lead to the creation of the SNCC. With Ella, the SNCC helped organize the successful Freedom Summer project. Today, the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, CA continues her work in elevating racial and economic justice for people of color.

Joyce & Dorie Ladner

Dorie and Joyce Ladner at the March on Washington, August 23, 1963

In 1961, both Joyce and Dorie Ladner became involved with the Freedom Riders in Jackson, Mississippi and first introduced to nonviolent action. As field secretaries for SNCC, the Ladner sisters participated in the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins, and organized various outreach programs and civil disobedience demonstrations aimed to register disenfranchised black voters and to end racially segregated public accommodations. Today, Dorie Ladner continues her organizing as a social and political activist against U.S. wars of aggression and been actively engaged in mobilization for a just U.S. policy in the Middle East. Joyce Ladner is a member of various civic engagement organizations, such as The Council on Foreign Relations, and the Washington Woman’s Forum.


Want to know more about the courageous women on the front lines of Selma, Alabama? Click below for links on a few more notable leaders.

Dorothy Height

Ruby Doris

Judy Richardson

Eva Jessye

Free Speech and Responsibility

I cut my teeth as a political activist in the famous Free Speech Movement of 1964-65, and still get emotional when I hear some of the fiery speeches of Mario Savio from that day. Though the issue that sparked the movement was racism (discrimination in housing, to be exact) the rallying cry was free speech and it was free speech for which we were ready to sacrifice our careers. I was still at Berkeley two years later, now as a faculty member, when FSM II came along, and now the ‘freedom’ sought was the right to shout obscenities into a loudspeaker system in the same square where Mario had honed his rhetoric two years before. FSM now stood for “Filthy Speech Movement.” While politicians and some administrators were busy dismantling what we had fought for, students themselves made their work easy by trivializing and vulgarizing the little enough that we achieved. Even the most stalwart fighters for free speech in our movement now point out that they were talking only about ‘consequential speech,’ not trivializing speech – provided you can tell the difference and agree on it.

But now we are facing a misuse of the noble ideal of free speech that is far more dangerous. I heartily praise Pope Francis for declaring in public in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo demonstrations that “freedom of speech does not include the right to insult someone’s religion.” To insult someone’s religion, to paraphrase a famous edict of Emperor Ashoka (304–232 BCE), is to disgrace one’s own. To insult the religion of people who are touchy about it and ignorant enough to kill in retaliation is downright insane.

How can we protect free speech without opening the door to these abuses? We can perhaps try to create actionable guidelines between “hate speech” or “fighting words” (as racial slurs are called on the Berkeley campus) and legitimate freedom of expression – a sine qua non of democracy – but I’m afraid it will be very difficult. Remember that just as some four million French men and women marched to assert their free speech rights, French Muslims were put in jail for expressing sympathy with the Charlie Hebdo attacks. As Gandhi pointed out, you are no real lover of freedom if you only want your freedom and don’t care about others’.

He also said, when he was approached about signing the Declaration of Human Rights, “Let me know when you have a declaration of human duties.” He felt that rights were very hard to define, agree upon, and secure, but if one took her or his duties seriously the rights would take care of themselves. This applies perfectly to the present case: if people take seriously their responsibility to respect others (not to mention to use their common sense) we will soon find that the right to free speech is easy to define and defend.



Selma: the Film, the Facts and the Field.

by Michael Nagler and Mercedes Mack

The film “Selma,” portraying the historic march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, AL in 1965, is a gut-wrenching experience that brings the viewer into the vehemence of the prejudice and the stunning courage of its resistors in this intense critical moment in the history of racism in America – and of nonviolence in the world.  The acting ranges from very good to superb (more on that in a moment).

People who know the history, like our colleague Prof. Clayborne Carson, editor and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project, have pointed out that the film has inaccuracies, notably in its negative portrayal of President Johnson, who in fact worked pretty much with King to secure the Voting Rights Act.  Director Ava DuVernay seems to have transferred some of the difficulties King had with Kennedy to Johnson, for whatever reason.  It has also been claimed (admittedly by the former governor’s son) that the one-sided portrayal of George Wallace is grossly unfair.  Certain it is that DuVernay and writer Paul Webb missed a golden opportunity when, during the historical updates that roll out at the conclusion of this and other biopics, they failed to mention that Wallace came to the 30th anniversary of the march and apologized for his former segregationist views.

It is much to be regretted how not only this film but Attenborough’s “Gandhi” over 30 years ago, missed their opportunities to really show some of the power of nonviolence.

We never see a moment in either film when, in the words of southern writer Marshal Frady,

. . . in the catharsis of a live confrontation with wrong, when an oppressor’s violence is met with a forgiving love, he can be vitally touched, and even, at least momentarily, reborn as a human being, while the society witnessing such a confrontation will be quickened in conscience toward compassion and justice.

In the field of nonviolence this is known as a “nonviolent moment.”   It happened in the long freedom struggle in India, it happened in the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., and we daresay in the personal experience of most of us.  These moments are the living source of nonviolent power.  If we could learn from them we could change history.  And filmmakers, among others, could play a key role in that learning.  Let no one say this cannot be done.  Look at the rally scene at the beginning of “Beyond Rangoon” with Patricia Arquette or the last scene of “The Long Walk Home” with Whoopi Goldberg, Cissy Spacek, and Dwight Schultz for scenes of high drama and nonviolent power at work.

The film gives a good account of the strategic reasons for one to be nonviolent in such a situation but does not explore its strange power to move human hearts. The deepest it delves into this key phenomenon is in the horrified reactions of whites elsewhere as they watch Bloody Sunday on television. The essential belief of nonviolence in the empathy that is inherent – though sometimes conditioned out of awareness – even in those who hate is missing in the film. Nonviolence argues, and science now confirms, that injustice inflicted upon another is simultaneously inflicted upon ourselves, which is why King and his close followers often said to white people (but not in this film), ‘we’re going to win your freedom in the process.’

This being said, DuVernay touches on the seemingly inevitable struggle a movement faces when their efforts do not yield readily visible results. We want action and change now and fail to recognize the constant improvement that is taking place, primarily as the awakened empathy in each person.  This is by no means a fast process, but it creates the foundation for lasting change.

Needless to say, the portrayal of violence in any retelling of the famous Selma to Montgomery march is not “gratuitous.”  Without its violence – and its nonviolent resistance – there is no story.  However, DuVernay chose to bring to bear all the considerable techniques of modern cinema to make the violence as graphic as possible.  This, we feel, was perhaps gratuitous.  It is perhaps why in the end we left the theater appreciative, to be sure, but not uplifted.

David Oyelowo probably comes as close to giving us Martin Luther King, Jr. as it is reasonable to expect.  The real King had a controlled passion that fired hearts and imaginations.  He said, with some justice, that the movement did not lead to outbursts of anger; they “controlled anger under discipline for maximum effect.”  Oyelowo’s King is passionate, to be sure, but more of a haranguer stirring up intense emotionality.  Again, an opportunity lost, here to convey what is probably the most profound secret of nonviolence.

We do not want to leave this review on a negative note, however. “Selma” is a powerful film that is well worth seeing. Even if it were not the case that our post-Ferguson society is embroiled in the same agonies as 1965, this film captures a moment of history when ordinary Americans were transfigured into what we are all capable of if we only knew how to bring it forth.

A Call to Militant Empathy

You are Not My Enemy. Violence is My Enemy.

A Call to Militant Empathy

by Peijman Kouretchian


Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 9.36.47 PM(Photo by Mica Stumpf)


The streets look like war. Two NYPD police officers were just “assassinated” apparently as revenge for the Eric Garner chokehold death. This is the first major physical attack on actual police officers after the Ferguson riots ignited the #blacklivesmatter movement. Though this was just the act of one troubled person and doesn’t represent the mostly physically nonviolent movement that has been going on, it is absolutely paramount to be clear on what principles we are aligned with as we fight for justice.

Recently I became certified as a Kingian Nonviolence (a system of conflict reconciliation built on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) trainer. The protests bring to mind two important principles from what I learned:  “Avoid internal violence of the spirit, as well as external physical violence,” and “Attack systems of injustice, not individuals within those systems.”

When protests break out there is often an abundance of rage. Where is this anger usually directed? At people. Often towards the police, or individual officers. This results in dehumanization, seeing others as less than human. When we dehumanize others, violence is justified against them, and the system which created them remains unchanged. The way out of this cycle is two fold: 1) Attack and transform the systems that created these individuals.  2) Refuse to hate individuals and instead empathize.

Empathy is the art of connecting to the real experience of another person by looking at the world from their perspective. It is at the root of all social evolution, and according to Gloria Steinem, “the most revolutionary emotion.”. When we empathize and look at other’s actions from the point of view of human needs, it becomes easier to understand why someone acts the way they do, even if the strategies they are using to meet those needs are flawed, and possibly unacceptable.

There is a tremendous need to empathize with the black community and what they experience at the hands of police. The history of trauma needs space for people to grieve and time for situations to heal. I am thankful to see this movement inspiring empathy in that direction and hopeful that others are awakening to the concept of white privilege.

But, what about the police? Do they also deserve our empathy?

There is so much demonization of police going on right now, that we can forget that behind the uniform is a human being. Surely the unjust deaths of civilians at the hands of police are absolutely enraging, but if we want to awaken the police to be more humane and to create systemic change, will hating them advance our cause?

What’s it like for the police when they are beating on people, or killing innocents? What drew them to that kind of “work”? What kind of system of dehumanization did THEY have to go through before they were ready to brutalize others?

Recent studies have shown that in the moment of violence, aggressors lack empathy for their target. This lack of empathy can be temporary or permanent. One’s capacity for empathy is shown by the level of functioning of a special circuit in the brain, the empathy circuit. Dr. Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Cambridge and director of the university’s Autism Research Center, explains that the empathy circuit can be underdeveloped or damaged by negative environmental factors (usually parental, sometimes societal) and a genetic component.

On December 9, 2014 I attended a protest in Oakland. When the riot gear came out with full weaponry in hand and emotionless facial expressions on display, the atmosphere was tense. I saw it as the perfect place to challenge myself to practice empathy. Here they are, ready to beat me at the command of their superior, and if I can open myself to empathize, maybe I can shift the energy. I raised my voice as loud as I could without screaming and started addressing all of the police at once:

“You are not my enemy. Violence is my enemy. I have faith in you. I know there is a human behind that uniform. I won’t give up on you. I know you are not all bad. I know on some level you probably don’t want to be here right now. I know it may pain you to get orders to hit or arrest us. I know there is good inside of you. I know there is another way. You are not my enemy. Violence is my enemy.”

 Inside of me emotion was swelling and tears came as I felt that the police were softening up. Some of them acknowledged me with head nods or by waving their hands. The ‘us vs. them’ vibe seemed broken at least for a moment. I noticed the lack of hate within me, and instead the genuine concern for their humanity behind the cold exterior they were displaying. My partner Mica Stumpf described the scene, “There was a real energy shift when you started empathizing with them. The police seemed to relax a bit and feel some relief, maybe because they finally had a good interaction with a protestor. The other protestors seemed to be a bit shocked and intrigued by what you were doing as well. At the very least you planted some seeds.”

Research shows that bias is often unconscious, so even police who may identify as non-racist, may be unconsciously associating people of color with crime. Criminologist Lorie Fridell has developed a training to counteract the bias through promoting empathy between police and the community “the more we interact with individuals who are different from ourselves, including those we stereotype, that’s going to reduce both our conscious as well as implicit biases.”

If we want the police to be more empathic, I believe we should model that ourselves. Dr. King taught that if we are motivated by hate and vengeance, those emotions will be reflected in the change we create.  Let’s wake the police up to what they are doing – and could be doing instead – without resorting to their tactics of dehumanization. Let’s be fierce in our refusal to dehumanize! Let’s bring forth this form of confrontational heart-centered conflict transformation: Militant Empathy.


If you’d like to learn more about what it really takes to engage in nonviolent conflict transformation and de-escalation, check out Peijman’s trainer page here at the Metta Center for Nonviolence. He is also co-founder of Empathy App and a transformational coach.



Sitting with Luna

Today is the 15 year anniversary of the end of Julia Butterfly Hill’s nonviolent campaign to protect the Redwood trees of Humboldt County California from extensive logging.

julia1The town of Stafford in Humboldt California was a primary lumber producing town in northern California from 1885 to 1985. In 1996, Pacific Lumber Company (PLC) initiated a policy of clear cutting the trees, a method of logging in which all trees are removed from a given tract of forest. Many community members were against the new policy, not only for the extreme ecological degradation caused by the method, but also because the trees in Stafford acted as a natural barrier against mudslides in the city’s wet winter months.

Earth First!, founded in 1980, is an ecological resistance group, still very active today, dedicated to advocating for various environmental causes. In 1996, Earth First! conducted tree sit-ins to protest the logging of redwood trees.

Julia Hill, the most famous activist from the movement, met Earth First! organizers in 1997 upon relocating to California from Arkansas. A year earlier, Hill had been in an almost fatal car accident. Some observers have noted that the accident and its effect on Hill’s life bears an uncanny resemblance to an industrial accident that nearly blinded environmentalist John Muir, who changed his way of living after the incident and thereafter began to fight for wilderness preservation.

julia4As soon as she connected with a group of tree sitters, she found herself sitting in Luna, a name given to one of the chosen redwood trees, 180 feet up sitting on a small makeshift platform. She had to leave after six days due to illness. Once she recovered, Hill was back in Luna on December 10, 1997 and stayed for 738 days.

Several days after her second stint in Luna, Earth First! decided sit-ins in Luna should stop. The organization was not prepared to provide resources for an extended period of time. Hill disagreed, and since she did not consider herself a member of the organization, arranged for her own supplies.

PLC repeatedly attempted to retaliate against Hill and the increasing media buzz she created. The corporation employed security guards at the base of Luna to prevent Hill from receiving supplies, employing a low flying helicopter and nailing an eviction notice to the tree. None of their tactics had much effect.

Hill became a symbol of the eco movement at the time. National and international media outlets were inspired and impressed by her determination and resilience. Her story was covered in the L.A. Times, Newsweek Magazine, and People Magazine. CNN also scheduled a television debate between Hill (from Luna) and President of PLC, John Campbell. While this never happened, the hilarious prospect created a huge upswing in media attention. Her inclusion in mainstream media diversified support in ways that would have otherwise taken much longer and been more costly and difficult.

As one hundred days approached, no progress had been made towards the resolution of Hill’s demands: protect Luna, slow down logging in the area, and raise awareness. Hill escalated the conflict by undertaking a fast while still occupying the tree. In terms of the Conflict Escalation Curve, Hill had moved from waging Satyagraha (Stage 2) to the Last Resort (Stage 3, fasting) when it became clear that a response from PLC was not forthcoming. It should be noted that Hill’s decision to undertake a fast was not done lightly; Hill had thoroughly exhausted her tactics in Stage 1 and 2 before moving onto Stage 3-this is key when waging nonviolence. At this point, Hill started regularly phoning PLC President John Campbell to maintain a space for negotiation. By regularly phoning the PLC President, she showed her commitment to open dialogue and resolution. Gandhi himself continually gave opportunities for dialogue with Smut to negotiate terms of India’s independence. Gandhi’s principled nonviolence advocates for what he described as a “change of heart”-appealing to your opponent’s heart as well as mind.


‘…if you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also. The appeal of reason is more to the head but the penetration of the heart comes from suffering. It opens up the inner understanding in man.’


In February of 1999, President Campbell visited Hill with a six pack of Pepsi and negotiations started resulting in the Luna Preservation Agreement: a donation $50,000 to Humboldt State University for forestry research, preserving Luna and a 250 ft. buffer zone around it.


Unfortunately, in the year following Hill’s departure from Luna, the tree was cut 32 inches deep with a chainsaw. It was saved by local arborists.

While the nonviolent strategy of sit-ins had been used before, most famously by students from Greenboro, NC and then many others at lunch counters in the Civil Rights Movement, a tree sit-in was a new and interesting tactic for the U.S. In New Zealand, Stephan King had successfully implemented tree sit-ins to save native trees in what is now Pureora Forest Park, and of course one could connect Julia’s act with the famous Chipko Andolan or tree-hugging movement in the Himalayas. The strategy was successful in capturing the media’s attention and creating dialogue around the issue of clearcutting.

julia3Julia Hill is still actively involved in environmental causes. In 2002, she protested against an oil pipeline in Ecuador. She has also written The Legacy of Luna, an environmental handbook One Makes the Difference and co-founded the Circle of Life Foundation.

There is a plethora of information on Julia Hill, as well as the tree-sitting movement in California. Below are some of my favorites.

Click here to watch a great interview with Julia Hill by the Global Oneness Project.

A great interview with

There’s a PBS movie about Julia’s experience called Butterfly.

A Dateline expose on Julia Hill in 1999.

In Brief: Pledge of Nonviolence

“Believing as we do that life is an interconnected whole, and that there is an inescapable harmony between means and ends, and convinced by the proven effectiveness of nonviolent struggles in a just cause, we take the following pledge…”

And so begins Metta Center’s “A Pledge of Nonviolence.” Pledging to nonviolence of course requires so much more than adding our names to a list (if only it were that easy!); it’s a serious commitment gracing every aspect of our lives.

I’ve signed the pledge as a friendly reminder to myself: “This is the path you’ve chosen. Tread with gentle feet, go forward with a courageous heart.”

forest trail with birch trees

To take the pledge is to commit to a lifetime of exploration and learning. I make mistakes (the blunders I can make sometimes!) and encounter unsureness, but I find these experiences incredibly freeing. As unsettling as some of these moments can be, I ultimately know that they’re stepping stones between what was and will be.

Nonviolence is always a present-moment opportunity. It’s how we put our intentions and knowledge into play; it’s where our deepest hearts’ longing for peace and total freedom meet our minds’ capacities to see connection.

“…[W]e will refrain from violence in deed, word, and as far as possible even in thought.”

This part of the Pledge’s first point can be very hard to meet, especially in times calling for urgent and simultaneous action on so many fronts. It can feel overwhelming, even exasperating. And that is why taking the pledge involves recognizing our greatest strength, our ability to grow into who we already are—conscious, creative, loving beings.

The Practice of Peacemaking in Early Childhood

A Higher Education:

The Practice of Peacemaking in Early Childhood-Brief Reflections.


By Stephanie Van Hook

A friend or spouse turns to you and says something unkind. How do you respond? Do you lash out with hurt and anger? Resentment? Or do you take a breath; perhaps even walk away for a moment, and return later to talk it out, all while trying to understand yourself and the other person better? Do you recommit yourself to the bond you and your friend have formed in the spirit of the higher goals toward which you are working?

Now ask yourself, how would you like your child to respond in a similar situation?

Peacemaking is a life skill. Some of us are lucky to receive such training in our early adulthood, but I know of a classroom where children as young as three years old practice resolving their conflicts nonviolently. Doing so, they grow daily in empathy and compassion.

These children attest to the reality that living among others has its difficulties. Unkindness and disrespect hurt us all. These forms of violence hurt children more deeply because they are still learning to get their bearings on this new world into which they have entered.

Children in early childhood are forming their vision of humanity, asking in their hearts whether the world is a friendly or unfriendly place. They answer this question by listening and observing: how do the people I love treat one another? how do they treat me? how do they treat others who are not a part of our family or community? And like good scientists, they experiment: what will happen if I respond by doing this? Will I lose love and affection if I do this?

Unkindness and disrespect, however, are even more problematic because they are compulsions–unconscious habits we have been forming in response to having situations go the way that we would prefer. In other words, they are manifestations of our own relationship to power.

Power is not negative, except when it is used to dominate others. This dynamic is referred to as exercising “power over.” We exercise this kind of power when we Insist that someone does something “our way” or else (fill in the threat here). Adults do not respond well to this kind of a relationship, neither do children. Or even animals! Even if you get “what you want,” the relationship suffers.

Another form of power over is referred to as “exchange power.” Give me what I want, and I’ll give you something you want. As for any disenfranchised group such as children–a group whose voices are only heard because of adult allies–exchange power already begins on an unequal footing: you cannot fully engage in an exchange when ultimately the person with whom you are exchanging is dependent on you. If you only would do things the way I want, I will give you this thing (that reinforces your desire)… It’s a vicious cycle.

The third form of power breaks the dynamic of the threat and exchange, and transforms the negativity of the situation into an opportunity to deepen the relationship in question. This is called “integrative power.” Instead of it working as a power over model, it functions as a form of “power with.” I am going to stay true to myself, and in doing so, it will bring us closer together, even if I have to resist negative behavior–from myself or others– in the process. This is the heart of nonviolence.

The space of integrative power is a world in and of itself. In this place, one has to discover who one is, or at least, have a working sense of what that means. This does not come naturally–it requires practice. How can I know that I am really kind if I have no practice of being kind in the face of unkindness? What happens to my kindness and confidence when someone challenges me? Can I learn as a child how to draw from these reservoirs? Or have all of my attempts at resolving conflicts been intervened in, mediated and judged by a grown-up, or simply controlled by someone other than myself?

It’s not easy taking a step back and observing when the child is working through a conflict. However, it is entirely worth it. For instance, when you hear in the middle of a conversation around a conflict that seems to be going nowhere, one child realizes that the person with whom she is speaking may need a tissue. Can I get you one? The child is growing in her confidence around empathy and the situation enabled her to reveal it on her own. It’s an amazing discovery.

MariaMontessoriConsider the words of Dr. Montessori:

“These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying : ‘Help me to do it alone!'”

The role of the grown-up is simple: help the child to do it alone. Offer the tools of peacebuilding–the words when needed, the personal examples and even the worldview through storytelling and other media choices.

When a child hurts another with her words or even deeds, ask them how it felt, whether it resolved their problem, and what they can do. Help them to widen their vision to see that violence creates only more problems and let them take the lead in imagining nonviolent solutions–i.e. What do you think would work to resolve this? Let’s make a list of ideas and talk about them. (It is important to emphasize here that the adult’s perceptions will influence those of the child–such as labeling other children as “bad,” “mean” or as “bullies.” You can critique a behavior without mis-labeling the child who is learning who they are…) But most importantly, give them–and everyone to the greatest extent possible– the gift of an environment of practice. Create in your homes and in your lives a space where we have opportunities to review mistakes and offer suggestions around trying again in a new way that upholds the dignity of all. Explain that we do this in an effort to make our greatest contribution to the well-being of everyone. This is the highest form of education.


Listen to this interview with Montessori educator Andrée Young on Peace Paradigm Radio.